The ties between Britain and Germany have been close for many years. The two nations are linked by strong bonds of culture and friendship. But what will these connections look like after Brexit? Rachel Launay, British Council Country Director, Germany, looks at the future of the Anglo-German relationship.
The new British Council collection of essays, ‘Crossing Points’, has been written by eight authors for the ‘UK/Germany 2018’ season: a year-long programme exploring and celebrating cultural connections between the two countries. The book highlights a range of connections between the UK and Germany that weave us together in multiple ways including literature, science, language, study, politics, and simple, old-fashioned friendships. However, they only represent a fraction of the vast sweep of crossing points that characterise the histories and developments of our two countries.
The timing of this publication is of huge importance, as the two countries launch a joint season of art and culture, ‘UK/Germany 2018’, at a moment that they face the loss of one of the most significant crossing points: the European Union. The EU has provided a means of exchange and interaction between the UK and Europe for the last 44 years. What impact is Brexit likely to have on the vital Anglo-German bi-lateral relationship? From trade and business to arts and science and education and research, the existing connections between the two countries are rich and manifold. The British Council commissioned Ipsos MORI to conduct a major comparative survey of the attitudes of young people across the G20 before and after the 2016 EU referendum. The results from Germany and the UK provide a rich and fascinating picture of the state and likely future of the Anglo-German rapport, including plenty of reasons to be cheerful.
Bound by culture, values, and mutual attraction
First the bad news. The result of the EU referendum has undoubtedly had an impact in Germany, where it has formed a major topic of debate. There has been a sharp fall of 10 percentage points in the trust young Germans feel toward the UK government (from 49% - 39%), compared, for example, to 62% levels of trust in the Canadian government. The proportion of those asked saying that the UK Government does not work constructively with other governments rose from 23% - 35%. There was also a worrying decline in the proportion of Germans agreeing that the UK values diversity or tolerance or that British people are open and welcoming.
The UK was the most attractive G20 European country to young Germans, who particularly cited British people’s politeness, friendliness and cultural quirkiness (although for some reason also felt that we drink too much…)
However, there has not been a similar effect on attitudes towards British institutions or - most importantly - towards the UK or the British people themselves. The UK was the most attractive G20 European country to young Germans, who particularly cited British people’s politeness, friendliness and cultural quirkiness (although for some reason also felt that we drink too much…) and Germany remains attractive to young British people, with the German people, institutions and government trusted more than those of any other G20 European country.
Indeed, it is striking the degree to which young people in both countries continue to find each other attractive. The figures are similar, with roughly two thirds of young Germans continuing to find the UK attractive overall and a third of them choosing the UK as one of the three most attractive G20 countries for people who can be trusted and for making personal contacts and friendships. Similar proportions of young British people said the same about trusting people from Germany. Such trust and attraction has important implications for tourism and trade. As such it is perhaps then less surprising that, after the referendum result, there was a rise in the number of young Germans finding the UK an attractive tourism destination, and no statistically significant decline in intention to do business or trade with the UK.