The German business community is much more pessimistic than ordinary voters about the effects on the country’s economy of Britain’s departure from the European Union, according to a poll by the British Chamber of Commerce in Germany, in association with Open Europe and OMFIF.
In a survey of 225 companies doing business in Germany and the UK, 73% of respondents believed that Brexit will damage the German economy, and a clear majority of 55% expects a ‘hard Brexit’.
The biggest concerns were tariffs and other trade barriers (61%), restrictions on labour mobility (49%), tax changes (47%), disruptions in supply chains (47%), and licensing and patent problems (41%). The poll showed that 51% of companies have already made concrete preparations for Brexit.
Germany’s business view is much more downbeat than that of the general population, according to a separate BCCG survey carried out by the Forsa research organisation. A minority of 39% of the public said they were very concerned about Brexit. Germans have much more angst about Donald Trump (82%), the crises in the Middle East (75%), the nuclear situation in North Korea (71%) and tensions between Europe and Russia (66%).
Around 62% of respondents ‘regret the UK leaving the EU’. That is almost unchanged from the results immediately after the referendum. These misgivings are more pronounced in western Germany (65%) than in eastern parts (50%). Supporters of the Green party show the most regret (83%). Only the supporters of the eurosceptic Alternative for Germany (AfD) (46%) show relatively little regret over Brexit.
If an EU membership referendum were held in Germany, 82% would vote Remain and only 14% Leave, exactly as indicated in June 2016. Again, supporters of the Green party (91% Remain) are the most pro-EU. Only AfD supporters would favour German departure (73%).
About 42% of Germans believe that other countries may leave the EU, whereas 46% do not. This is not a sign of massive confidence in the future of the EU as it is today. Especially easterners, the less educated and supporters of the extreme left and right think the EU will unravel.
Asked whether the relationship between Germany and the UK has worsened since the Brexit decision, 42% say ‘yes’ and 48% say ‘no’.
Only 11% of Germans expect co-operation between the remaining 27 EU member states will become ‘easier’ after Brexit. Almost half think there will be little change, and 39% even believe co-operation will be ‘more difficult’.
Germans mostly expect ‘no influence’ (41%) on their own economy from Brexit. A ‘rather damaging’ effect is expected by 33% and ‘rather beneficial’ consequences by 15%.
About 53% said a ‘soft Brexit’ is more likely. This would include the UK remaining close to the customs union and the single market. Only 38% expect a ‘hard Brexit’ of total separation.
A large majority of Germans (65%) wants the EU to stand firm against Britain during the talks. The share of ‘hardliners’ is highest among supporters of the Greens (75%) and the Social Democrats (71%) and lowest amongst eastern Germans (46%) and AfD supporters (47%).
Michael Wohlgemuth is director of Open Europe in Berlin. The BCCG holds its annual conference in London on 3 May on ‘The Future of German-British trade after Brexit’.
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