Wars, conflicts, poverty, migration and economic problems: in every corner of the globe, people are confronted by a multitude of challenges which need to be resolved. In the crisis-ridden eurozone countries of Spain, Italy and France, the principal concern is the high rate of unemployment. Rising prices and declining purchasing power are an issue in countries such as Iran, Indonesia and Russia where inflation is dominant. In Germany, reports of the fate of migrants attempting to reach the country have made an indelible mark in the consciousness of respondents. One in three Germans now see the migrant problem as this year’s most pressing issue.
Price and purchasing power development is the greatest challenge facing the global population. It is an issue which has knocked the traditional long term number one concern of unemployment from pole position. This concern currently tops the list, with around 32% nominating it as the major international worry. This particularly applies in India and Iran, where more than one in two respondents said they felt that improving price and purchasing power development was an urgent current issue to be resolved. This anxiety is understandable in light of the escalating cost of living in these countries. Russia and Indonesia are also presently battling rising prices, with the result that consequently, this issue is also at the top of the list of concerns in these countries. These are the findings of the multi-year ‘Challenges of the Nations’ survey carried out by the GfK Verein in February this year, for which in excess of 25,000 subjects in 22 countries were surveyed on the major current challenges to be resolved.
It is hardly surprising that the Spanish, Italians and French see unemployment as their greatest concern. Opportunities for young people on the labor market are very restricted in these countries. Some 74% of Spanish, 64% of French and 55% of Italians are worried about the lack of job opportunities, citing this as the major challenge to be resolved as these countries seek to put the crisis behind them this year. The Polish, (51%), Austrians (35%), Turks (30%) and Belgians (26%) also regard job creation as the major challenge of the day.
Obtaining that coveted construction contract, circumventing regulations or expediting licenses and the speed at which positions or projects can be created: these may not always be a question of competence, but also of money. Bribery, in other words. Countless respondents all over the world are so concerned by corruption that it ranks in third place on their list of anxieties: in the eyes of one in five survey subjects, corruption is the most pressing issue to be resolved. Respondents regard the fight against crime to be nearly as important as dealing with corruption. At 18%, it is ranked fourth internationally on the list of concerns. However, concern in South Africa is above-average: according to police statistics for 2013/2014, more than 17,000 people were murdered in the Cape in one year, with in excess of 100,000 robberies. Against this background, it is not surprising that virtually half the South Africans surveyed said there was an urgent need for action.
Anyone concerned for their own personal safety is hardly going to spend time on worrying about the instability of the economic system. In safer countries, economic instability plays a more important role and is ranked fifth on the list of concerns: indeed, for Americans and Japanese, it is even the main issue. However, at 15% and 13% respectively, markedly fewer people are pressing for a solution to the problem than in South Korea. A total of 42% of respondents see economic development as a primary issue there.
One in ten respondents expressed concern about education policy. It is therefore ranked sixth globally. However, it has not made the quantum leap to the top of the list in any of the countries surveyed. The picture differs when it comes to the health sector. Despite placing seventh overall in the world, it takes top spot in three separate countries. For instance, 44% of Brazilian, 30% of UK and even 19% of Dutch respondents are worried about faltering health systems.
Transport policy, politics and government along with poverty occupy places 8 to 10 in the rankings, although none of them come top of the agenda. Conversely, these issues are given the highest priority in some countries which are not among the global top 10. For example, Nigerians put the spotlight on security of the energy supply. Erratic gas, oil, water and power supplies are a problem for more than one in two Nigerians surveyed, while in Germany, Sweden and Switzerland, immigration and the integration of immigrants are considered the major issues. One in four Swedes and 29% of the Swiss surveyed believe there is an urgent need for action here, and even in Germany, the corresponding figure is 35%.
It is virtually impossible to erase the images of migrants waiting at national borders, risking their lives in unseaworthy floating rust buckets and languishing in makeshift shelters in Europe. In 2014, Germany took in more than 200,000 asylum seekers, whereas two years ago, the figure was fewer than 80,000. Accordingly, German perceptions of the problem have heightened/changed: while in 2014, just 13% of Germans regarded immigration and integration as a problem to be resolved, the figure has almost trebled to its current level of 35%. With this, the issue has knocked concerns over unemployment from pole position in the rankings. This was last the case in 1992, although at that time, there had also been at least 400,000 asylum applications, which is more than ever before or since. As a matter of fact, in 1992, a significantly higher number of respondents (68%) than now also thought immigration and integration to be a matter for concern. The situation is somewhat different now. While at the beginning of the 1990s, 17% explicitly approved of the rejection or deportation of asylum seekers, the figure today is 9%. Conversely, the proportion of those demanding an end to hostility to foreigners has risen markedly from 3% in 2014 to the current figure of 10%.
Ranked second in Germany at 22%, concern about unemployment stands at its lowest level since the survey was first conducted in a reunified Germany in 1991. This decline in concern reflects the positive development of the German labor market. There has been repeated good news regarding jobs in Germany lately. In 2014, the rate of unemployment stood at its lowest level of 5%, dropping even further to 4.7% in January 2015. By way of comparison, in 2005, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO), around 11% of Germans had no fixed employment. Evidently, Germans seem realistic in their approach to the issue of employment and adapt the need for action to the actual figures.
The issues of pensions and provisions for old age as well as price and purchasing power development are worrying Germans even less than last year (both 16%). These issues are currently ranked third and fourth. Although maternity benefit and withdrawing pensions at the age of 63 sometimes generate heated discussion, the thorny subject of financial security in old age has evidently lost its sting. Low rates of inflation have without doubt contributed to offsetting the odd anxiety about purchasing power. Nevertheless, there is another issue which is giving Germans a headache: the Greek crisis is not yet over and Germans are not unaffected by the much-debated Grexit and its ramifications. This goes some way to explaining that despite positive economic data in Germany compared with the prior year, worries about economic stability have grown by 5 percentage points, leaping from 12th to 5th place in the rankings. The threat of poverty in Germany is making less dramatic progress on the list of German anxieties – although it must be noted that it is slowly but surely becoming a more prevalent concern. Currently, 15% of Germans see the need to take action against poverty in Germany as a major issue, compared with just 2% ten years ago.
Is it better to gradually attain a high school diploma over nine years or go for matriculation at top speed in eight years? The debate about how long to remain at secondary school, along with questions relating to early education and kindergarten/crèche pre-schooling, is preoccupying Germans. In matters of education policy, 15% said that not all the necessary homework had yet been completed. This is three percentage points higher than a year ago. Even more evident is the rise in concern related to securing peace. At 11%, the subject makes its first appearance in the top 10 for 15 years, coming in at No.8. Some of the causes may be attributable to the crisis in the Ukraine and Russia’s politics, which are further destabilizing the region. There has been almost no movement in rankings for ninth and tenth place: criminality (10%) and social security (9%) are currently running at more or less the same level as in the prior year. German concerns about the health sector (at 9%, ranked 11) and German politics and government (at 6%, ranked 15) also stand at about the same level as last year, while people seem to be less worried about environmental issues than they were a year ago. In 2014, one in ten Germans still expressed the opinion that action was needed. Today, the figure is just 6%, putting the issue into 13th place on the agenda.
There has been a perceptible growth in concerns regarding global politics and terrorism. The former is thought by 7% to be the major issue, which is 3 percentage points up on the figure for the previous year. Fear of terrorist activities has even risen by five percentage points to its current level of 6%, presumably fueled by reports of incidents, such as the Islamic terrorist attack on the editors of French magazine “Charlie Hebdo”, or the subsequent warnings of imminent attacks received by the secret services, above all in Berlin and Dresden. However, ranked in 12th and 14th place, these are issues which remain outside the top 10 on the list of concerns.
What are the issues which will be on the global agenda for the coming year? For certain, in our global village we are confronted by challenges, which may well originate in some distant land, thousands of miles away. A prime example of this is the migrant issue, which, with no quick solution in sight, will continue to be preoccupy Germans in the coming months. We will need a great deal of patience to resolve this and other challenges. Here, perhaps, we could look to Confucius for help: “The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.”
Data source: GfK Verein, Study „Challenges of Nations 2015“ (July 2015)
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