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International Relations

World expects more of German foreign policy

What does the world expect of Germany? As Foreign Minister Steinmeier addresses foreign policy goals, international audiences offer DW their views. The responses differ from those Germans gave in a similar poll.

Granted, comments on Facebook are hardly representative and certainly can't be taken as anything statistically substantial. But they do provide a litmus test of sorts, a personal look at how a particular group of people feels about specific issues.

And on the issue of Germany, DW Facebook fans are more than willing to share their thoughts, profess their love and vent their frustration over the country's political and economic role. So when DW asked its readers on Facebook "What do you expect of Germany" ahead of a speech by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, it wasn't surprising that several dozen people wrote in with their opinions. Their responses provide an inkling of what people outside the country think about Berlin's current leadership and future policy.

A changing view

Aside from the ubiquitous references to German excellence in cars and beer, readers largely say they wanted to see the country play a bigger role on the world stage.

"Germany can't always hide behind the wall that was created because of WWII. It has to come out, be a proper citizen of the world," Peter Hannemann writes. Azam Ali Soomro echoes that view: "Germany has to play an independent role in the regional and world affairs."

Readers are quick to attest Germany with a leadership role, and not just in Europe. Many comments couple high expectations for Germany with frustration over the US role as the sole superpower.

"It's time that the USA retire (so to speak) as the world's policeman. Germany, despite its dark history [...] can become more active militarily in the defense of Europe, as Germany is well known for its fighting spirit," writes Jason Nelsen.

Adolfo Bon has "big expectations" for Berlin. He says Germany has a "critical, independent and influential voice in a world, where for the past decades only the US has set the pace."

View from within

Of course, expectations differ depending on the viewpoint. Whereas DW's international readers seem to welcome a more active and boisterous role for Germany on the world stage, that's not so much the case domestically. When Germans were asked a similar question in a survey conducted by the foreign ministry together with the Körber Foundation, the response was almost the exact opposite of DW's Facebook fans.

Germans, it turns out, prefer "restraint" when it comes to taking responsibility in international crises. Some 60 percent of the respondents in the representative study published May 20 want less engagement in global hotspots, compared to 37 percent who would like to see "greater engagement."

A cautious approach

But that doesn't mean Germans expect their political leaders to go into isolation. They endorse an active role, as long as it corresponds to their own ideas of what's important - those being the promotion of human rights and environmental policy. The prevention of ethnic conflicts, defense of allies and protection of weak states from aggression were ranked significantly less important as foreign policy priorities in the eyes of the 1,000 Germans polled.

In other words, four in five Germans want their armed forces less involved in military missions and almost two-thirds think Germany should maintain a cautious stance on foreign affairs. That is a reversal of results from a similar survey 20 years ago when 62 percent wanted to see Germany take on a more active role.

It is also a strong signal that there is little domestic backing for leaders' promises to introduce an era of more robust foreign policy. In January 2014, Germany's president, defense minister and foreign minister pledged a more prominent role for the country. They declared Germany could no longer watch from the sidelines and that it needed to step up "earlier, more decisively and more substantially" to the world stage.

All the comments were from DW's Facebook page. You can tell us what you think on Facebook or the comment section below.

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