Volkswagen’s faked emission tests, allegations that Germany bribed Asian FIFA officials to be made host of the 2006 World Cup and an investigation into Deutsche Bank’s alleged involvement in money laundering for Russian officials might appear to strike body blows to Germany’s reputation for fair dealing.
But according to Simon Anholt, policy advisor and publisher of the Anholt-GFK Roper Nation Brands Index – an index that last year named Germany as the most admired country in the world – the nation’s stellar reputation will remain.
“The image of a country, and especially such an admired country as Germany, is unimaginably more robust than it can be affected by a few news stories,” Anholt told The Local.
“National image is much more of a fixed currency than a liquid asset,” he said.
With more bad news about Volkswagen emerging daily, and Leonardo di Caprio set to make a film about the scandal, you would be forgiven for thinking that it could hit the reputation of Germany as a whole. But that’s not how human psychology works, Anholt said:
“A good company can contribute something to the image of Germany, but it’s highly unlikely a bad company can spoil it.”
Simon Anholt, who argues that Germany's good image won't be ruined by the latest scandals.
According to Anholt, when people are attached to something and something else appears to discredit it, they don’t immediately jettison their prior beliefs.
In this, Anholt appears to back Angela Merkel, who said that while the VW scandal was “dramatic” it wouldn’t have long-term effects on the country’s standing:
For the same reason, Anholt doesn't think Germany will be badly tarnished by newspaper allegations that German officials paid money to FIFA committee members to secure the 2006 World Cup – even though 'sports excellence' was one of the major factors that propelled it to the top of the 2014 Nation Brands Index:
“If it turns out that German officials paid bribes to get the World Cup, it will just add to the image of football being corrupt.”
“People will say ‘If even Germany is doing it, that shows how corrupt football is’.”
“The anomaly is reminding them of the rule – it’s reminding them of what they believe already. Our beliefs about places do not collapse at the first sign of contradiction.”
Likewise, to the extent that people are aware of the US Department of Justice investigation into Deutsche Bank over alleged money laundering on behalf of Russian officials, it would just demonstrate that the world of finance is corrupt, he said.
In fact the main factor for Germany’s global reputation at the moment isn't the scandals, it's the warm welcome it has given refugees – something that falls in German's plus column:
“If the German government came to me today and ask me what can we do to ensure what we can do to minimise the impact of these scandals I’d say welcome lots of migrants. Luckily they’re already doing that, so they don’t need my advice.”
“Volkswagen might be taking 10 cents out of the bank of Germany’s image right now, but Angela Merkel is repaying it a hundred times over.”
And while Merkel’s motivation in helping refugees is humanitarian, a good reputation also makes business sense, Anholt said:
“Having a good reputation ties in directly to trade, tourism, foreign direct investment and the acquisition of talent. There’s a vast body of research proving that a powerful and positive national image plays a pivotal role in the value of your exports.”