As Europe is at a crossroads, we at Allianz decided to check the pulse in Germany, France and Italy. Last June, we interviewed a thousand people in each country and asked about their views on political priorities, reform needs and aspirations.
Most respondents in France (59%), Italy (58%) and Germany (46%) think that societal developments have gotten off track recently, and call for more reforms, as measured by our Allianz Need for Change Indicator (ANCI), which scores above 60. At the same time, most people don’t believe that fundamental change is likely to take place, according to our Allianz Future Confidence Indicator (AFCI), which stands below 50 in all three countries. The gap between the desire for and the expectation of change gives evidence of the low trust in politics, something all three countries have in common.
Immigration is no longer the key concern in all three countries. It has been replaced by inequality – 71% of French and German respondents, and 75% of Italian respondents, see this as a big weakness of their respective countries – jobs – 72% of Italian and 64% of French respondents view this as a top policy priority –and pensions – a top priority for 71% of German and 66% of French respondents.
While environmental and climate protection is not seen as a top priority of national politics, the picture changes, when respondents are asked about the biggest risks for their country: Climate change jumps to second (France) and third place (Germany). Climate protection is also viewed as the number one policy priority for the next EU Commission by 52% of French and 56% of the German respondents; in Italy, it ranks number four. As for solutions, a clear division of labor emerges: National governments should focus on social issues whereas the EU should find solutions for “global” problems like climate change and immigration.
Perception matters: High taxes are a big concern for French respondents (risk number three for future development - 52%) and in particular for Italians (risk number one - 64%), but not so much for Germans (risk number six - 36%) – although taxes in Germany are at least as high. On the other hand, only German respondents worry much about their education system, although it gets better scores from the OECD than the two other countries.
A net percentage (participants answering more disadvantages minus those answering more advantages) of 21% of French and 13% of Italian respondents see EU membership negatively, while a net percentage of 14% of German respondents see it positively. The euro is seen in a very similar critical light.
However, divorce is not an option. In all three countries, respondents in favor of an exit are outnumbered by those who oppose leaving the EU by a wide margin of 19 percentage points in France and Italy, and 39pp in Germany.
As for globalization, German respondents are the harshest critics: a net percentage of 28% see globalization as damaging, when only a net percentage of 17% of the French are so critical; in Italy, there is even a slight majority (net percentage of 8%) in favor of globalization.
It seems as if people show stronger signs of discontent when more exposed: Germany is the main collateral victim of the US-China rivalry and other de-globalization threats such as Brexit.
French respondents are the most critical of digitalization (net percentage of 4%), with 11% of them emphasizing the downside risks to the economy and society. In Germany and Italy, the benefits clearly outweigh the risks: a net percentage of 22% (Germany) and 28% (Italy) think that digitalization is a blessing for the economy. Surprisingly, the answers do not reveal any specific age pattern. The French are also the most doubtful about data handling (net percentage of 27%). The Italians are split, with younger generations slightly more concerned (net percentage of 2% among the younger generation, and -3% in the general population). The Germans are the most relaxed (net percentage of -12%).
In all three countries, expectations are high for companies to be socially responsible: a net percentage of 21% of French, 46% of German, and 28% of Italian respondents call for companies to increase their environmental, social and governance (ESG) ambition. A Greta-effect is also visible as younger respondents across Europe are more demanding than their seniors on these issues.