The Reluctant Giant: Why Germany Shuns Its Global Role


Ullrich Fichtner in Spiegel Online:

Today, 68 years after the end of the war and 24 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, we Germans are respected, admired and sometimes even loved. The fact that we generally don't know what to do with all this admiration, because we collectively still seem to assume that we are not likeable and therefore must be unpopular, is a problem that very quickly becomes political. It's obvious that Germans' perception of themselves and the way we are perceived by others differ dramatically.

Even if some would not consider a travel guide to be the most credible basis for political reflections, it's easy to find other sources of praise for Germany and the Germans. The BBC conducts an annual poll to name the “most popular country in the world.” Germany came in a clear first in the latest poll, and it wasn't the first time. Some 59 percent of 26,000 respondents in 25 countries said that the Germans exert a “positive influence” in the world (and not surprisingly, the only country in which the view of Germany is overwhelmingly negative at the moment is Greece).

In the “Nation Brands Index” prepared by the American market research company GfK, which surveys more than 20,000 people in 20 countries about the image of various nations, Germany is currently in second place, behind the United States. This index is not some idle exercise, but is used as a decision-making tool by corporate strategists and other investors. GfK asks questions in six categories, including the quality of the administration and the condition of the export economy, and Germany is at the top of each category. But when Germans do acknowledge their current standing in the world, they always seem to be somewhat coy or even amused.

The rest of the world doesn't understand this (anymore). The rest of the world is waiting for Germany. But instead of feeling pleased about Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski's historic statement that he fears Germany's power less than its inactivity, we cringe anxiously over such sentiments. When US President Barack Obama calls Germany a leading global power, we hope that he doesn't really mean it. And when politicians in Israel say that Germany should wield its power more actively, we don't interpret it as a mandate to become more committed, but are puzzled instead.

We Germans? Exercise power? Take action? Lead?

More here.