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Synthesis 2013 > Countries showing encouraging signs: Germany and Italy

Countries showing encouraging signs: Germany and Italy

Anxiety is receding in Germany

With a budgetary surplus and renewed growth, anxiety levels in Germany have begun to recede. Germans nonetheless remain more anxious than the European average with regard to the 17 risks tested (12.1 risks are considered a significant worry compared with a European average of 10.8%).

However, in contrast with the European average, only a minority of Germans feel more vulnerable now than they were five years ago to the risk of financial difficulties (44% versus 62%), precarity (42% versus 59%) or losing their job (30% versus 51%). A relative majority of Germans even feel better protected against these risks than they were five years ago (41%; +2).

As the result of these positive tendencies, Germans’ cultural aversion to risk (highlighted in the first survey) is not quite as strong as in 2012:41% (+3) now feel that risk taking is viewed positively in their country, 39% (+2) believe that to succeed ‘you need to take a lot of risks’ whereas 36% (+8) believe that young people should be taught that in life they should be ‘very careful and not take risks if there is a price to be paid in the event of failure’. Paradoxically, Germany is one of the countries where the most people say that risk should be avoided and at the same time where the most people feel they take a lot of risks (72% of Germans feel they take risks, the highest percentage in Europe). This paradox aptly sums up the present position in Germany: Germans are currently willing to take controlled risks themselves, but not (or not anymore) to pay for those taken by others.

Countries showing encouraging signs: Germany and Italy

Signs of a calmer situation in Italy

Although the economic (and political) crisis is still raging in Italy, some encouraging signs can be seen.

The anxiety level in Italy remains very high but it has dropped slightly since last year in almost every area. The fear of unemployment has declined slightly (47%; -3 points).

The feeling of vulnerability to risk, although still strong, also shows a tendency to diminish, including with regard to unemployment. Admittedly a majority of Italians still feel at greater risk of financial difficulties (76%), losing their jobs (64%) and precarity (69%) than they did five years ago, but these feelings have all declined since last year (by between 5 and 8 points). The fact that Italy is now suffering less from market speculation (in May 2013 Brussels dropped the proceedings brought against Italy for exceeding the deficit) has probably given Italians’ morale a slight boost.

As for Italian risk attitudes, these are changing significantly: although still considered a danger by the majority (59%, in line with the European average), risk taking appears to be regaining appeal for Italians. A majority now consider that to succeed, one should take ‘a lot of risks’ (50%; +23 points) and that young people should be taught that in life they must know how to take risk (54%; +8). Risk taking is enjoying a return to favour that looks very like renewed confidence.

Countries showing encouraging signs: Germany and Italy

Regards d'experts

guillemet début German people have successfully embraced globalisation. A willingness to accept risk is inherent in this new prosperity.

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guillemet début Young Germans have great confidence in the future, whereas previous generations faced geopolitical concerns. They have confidence in terms of employment, thanks to the efficiency of the qualification system. They are not yet having children, but they are once again planning to do so. Moreover, that is why urgent work is being carried out on family policy aspects, because they will need to be ready very quickly.

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guillemet début Responsibility, in the protestant sense, is an essential notion in terms of Germany’s social life. Collective responsibility is founded on the individual responsibility of each person. Catholics cultivate another form of responsibility, which is based on charitable responsibility, but the economic values are given by protestants, even in Catholic regions.

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guillemet début We are on a continent, Europe, where the age of the population is rising. The ageing of the population is a major factor behind the attitudes to risks. This is a fundamental element, identified by several studies. It will be increasingly necessary to bear this in mind

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guillemet début Let’s not forget that behind these figures there are regional variations. Faced with risks, the situation in Italy is completely different depending on whether we are talking about the South or the North. There is 8% unemployment in the North, but over 17% in the South, where more than 40% of 15 to 24 year-olds are out of work (double the level in the North). This is a significant limitation with the research. The feeling of being protected or the fear of social regression are set against very different realities. If we carried out the survey in Lombardy or in Venetia, and we compared with Sicily or Campania, I believe the difference would go from 1 to 50!

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guillemet début There has just been a major change in Italy. Up until 2011, Berlusconi explained to the Italian people that they were in a sort of bubble, that the crisis was passing them by. Then, we have had the Monti government, which has adopted a Churchill-like “blood and tears” stance. In this way, the Italians have become aware that things were in fact going badly.

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guillemet début There is a general feeling of mistrust in Italy. All the other surveys we have reveal a collapse in the levels of confidence, affecting all institutions, even the country’s Presidency. Only 4% of Italians have confidence in the political parties! So, in Italy, a bit like in Greece, there is nothing else to do but take risks, as shown by the quite spectacular figures for the resumption of immigration by young people, from the South to the North, or the emigration of young graduates abroad (“brain drain”). Nevertheless, we can also see that the balance of trade shows a strong surplus. In Italy, there is still a capacity to do business

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guillemet début In Germany, there is a collective dimension, very different from French individualism. The Germans have a sense of collective effort over the long term, and you can see this right down to their consumption patterns. People consume less in Germany, they spend less on housing!

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guillemet début Cocteau used to say that an Italian is a good-tempered Frenchman.

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guillemet début People often call for “Franco-German” concord, in the belief that the pair is fundamental for the European Union. But if progress is slow, it is also because of the still very significant cultural differences between the French and the Germans. Their attitudes towards social risks and their perception of the future, as measured in this study, are likely to be determining differences.

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guillemet début Compared with other countries, you can see that Germany reforms its system on a regular basis and without difficulty.

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guillemet début In Germany, when trade unions and employers agree on a platform, you can see how it actually works: nobody takes a risk and everybody takes one. It's a very efficient system, because nobody tries to turn back. The partners take the risk together, in a spirit of solidarity.

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