Government opens debate on issue of demographic change
On 4 October 2012, the German Government hosted its first Demographic Summit. In view of the far-reaching effects demographic change is expected to have on German society and its economy, the Government has launched a broad-based national dialogue process that aims to involve all stakeholders in the implementation of a new demographic strategy. While agreeing on the urgent need for political action, social partners feel the plans are not far-reaching enough.
The process of demographic change is expected to have significant impact in Germany over the coming decades. Low birth rates and increasing life expectancy mean the proportion of older people will rise while the working-age population will continue to decline. The resulting labour shortage threatens economic growth and puts considerable pressure on social security systems. This applies particularly to technical professions and the natural sciences, where companies face recruitment problems (DE1009019I, DE0707039I).
Efforts are also being made to mobilise the labour potential of older workers through measures such as the signing of the collective agreement on working life and demography (in German, 184Kb PDF) by social partners in the German chemical industry in April 2008 (DE1011019I).
Tackling the demographic challenge
In order to address the demographic challenge, the German Federal Government has taken several steps, starting with the publication of the Federal Government Report on the Demographic Situation and Future Development of Germany (in German, 4Mb PDF) in November 2011. The report describes the current situation and outlines the implications of demographic change for different policy fields, such as the family and society, the economy, labour, education and research.
Based on this report, the Federal Ministry of the Interior (BMI) drafted an interdepartmental demographic strategy (in German, 6Mb PDF) which was officially launched in April 2012. The strategy contains a range of recommendations on how best to exploit the opportunities and tackle the multi-faceted challenges arising from demographic change.
It focuses on six areas that will be particularly affected by an ageing and shrinking population:
- strengthening the family as a community;
- motivated, skilled and healthy work;
- independent living in old age;
- quality of life in rural areas and integrative urban policy;
- securing the foundations for sustainable growth and prosperity;
- maintaining the state’s capacity to act.
Under each of these headings the Government proposes policy goals as well as possible steps for action. As some of these measures can only be implemented jointly with the state governments, local administrations, social partners and representatives of civil society, all stakeholders are to be involved through a broad-based dialogue, supported by an interactive website, Politik für alle Generationen [Policy for all generations].
The dialogue process was officially launched at the Federal Government’s first Demographic Summit on 4 October 2012, where nine working groups were set up to discuss existing best practice examples and develop concrete policy proposals for the key areas of the demographic strategy listed above.
Each working group is chaired by a federal minister together with one or two major stakeholder representatives. Among those involved are Dieter Hundt, President of the Confederation of German Employers’ Associations (BDA), and Michael Sommer, Chair of the Confederation of German Trade Unions (DGB).
The working groups will present the initial results of their work at the next Demographic Summit, scheduled for May 2013. In her speech on 4 October 2012, however, Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed that the tasks at hand would extend beyond the current legislative period.
Reaction of social partners
During the summit meeting, representatives of the social partners voiced criticism of the Federal Government’s demographic strategy and stressed the need for concrete policy and timely action.
DGB Director Karsten Schneider, in a press release, called for a significant reduction of temporary employment contracts in the public sector in order to make public service employment more attractive for young people and thereby prevent future skilled labour shortages.
In another press release, the DGB also criticised the Government’s demographic strategy as being too focused on voluntary work and individual responsibility. The union called for public investment in education, infrastructure, renewable energy and barrier-free living as well as sufficient funding for services of a general nature.
Hans-Jürgen Urban, Managing Board Member of the German Metalworkers’ Union (IG Metall), said far too few jobs allowed workers to grow old in good health, telling the national newspaper Die Welt that he wanted to see concrete measures in the workplace to fight such problems as work-related stress.
The employers’ association BDA published a report (in German, 1.42Mb PDF) in September 2012 in which it criticised the Government’s demographic strategy for its lack of concrete measures to mae sure the social security system could cope with demographic developments.
Prior to the summit, BDA Management Board member Alexander Gunkel was quoted in an article in the business daily Handelsblatt on 4 October 2012, in which he called for more decisive action against the imminent shortage of skilled labour.
In September 2012 the BDA published a briefing paper (in German, 1.67Kb PDF) summarising its concern about the growing shortage of structural specialists in a number of fields, and arguing that tackling this challenge required an integrated approach that:
- increased the labour market participation of women, older workers, immigrants and disabled people;
- improved the overall level of education;
- made Germany a more attractive destination for foreign specialists.
The BDA’s briefing argued that both easing labour market access for scarce workers in highly specialised non-academic occupations, and facilitating international personnel exchanges were equally important.
At the summit, the President of the Association of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce (DIHK), Hans Heinrich Driftmann, also made his views clear. A newspaper article in Die Welt reported that he urged the government to make greater efforts to promote the recruitment and integration of talented foreign professionals.
Targeted information and advertising abroad, he said, should be supplemented by a genuine culture of welcome, including measures that encouraged the long-term integration of foreign graduates from German universities into the domestic labour market.
Frauke Klein, Cologne Institute for Economic Research (IW Köln)