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Germany's Current Issues

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Natalie Caramagno

on 19 April 2013

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Transcript of Germany's Current Issues

Anti-Semitism and Neo-Nazism The Euro Zone Crisis Low Birth Rate Aging Workforce Economic Divide between the East and the West Natalie Caramagno Current Issues in Germany German economists and former politicians plan to start an anti-euro party that challenges Angela Merkel's support for the euro-area financial bailouts. The party will be called Alternative for Germany and according to the initiative's website, the party will "demand the dissolution of the euro in favor of national currencies or smaller currency alliances." The Alternative for Germany is a euro-skeptic party that believes in the breakup of the euro; the party does not want a breakup of the euro zone. One proposal is for Austria, Germany, Finland, and the Netherlands - among the healthiest economies in the euro zone - to quit the euro and create their own currency. Supporters believe that this would allow the countries with strong economies to stay independent of the suffering nations, allowing them to avoid the worst consequences of the crisis. The party will also say that countries should not be allowed to take on the debts of other euro zone members.

As of now, Germany does not have a significant euro-skeptic party on the national scale, but there are growing signs of public discontent with the cost of saving the euro. The party will be at least the second in Germany to try to channel public anger at bailouts for Greece, Ireland, Portugal, and Spain. Alternative for Germany has a greater chance of unsettling Merkel than did other euro-skeptic groups because of the affluence of its supporters. The party's founder is Bernd Lucke, a professor of macroeconomics at the University of Hamburg and a former World Bank adviser. Hans-Olaf Henkel, the former president of the German equivalent to the Confederation of British Industry, is also a strong supporter. The image depicts a broken euro because the current economic crisis in the euro zone threatens to severely damage the currency. Many say that Germany is the only country that can save the euro. Germany has the strongest economy in Europe and because of this, the country has been able to avoid many of the struggles arising in countries throughout the euro zone. As a result of the stability of the German economy, the government must carry much of the burden of helping the countries that are in crisis. As of July 2012, the Berlin government had contributed the bulk of the almost 440 billion euros that were raised for bailout funds and guarantees.

Angela Merkel's Christian Democrat-led coalition has backed the rescues of other economies with the support of the two biggest opposition parties in parliament, the Social Democrats and the Greens. However, her support for the euro and the bailout of currencies has earned her little support from German voters who resent paying off deficits elsewhere in the euro zone. The topic of the euro zone crisis, and Germany's involvement in it, will be one of the main discussions during the election this year. The issue of anti-Semitism and neo-Nazism in Germany stems from the Nazi government that was led by Adolf Hitler in the twentieth century. The photo shows a janitor covering neo-Nazi graffiti at Berlin's Jean-Piaget high school in May of 2006. Insults, graffiti, and physical violence against Jews occurs regularly in Germany. Daniel Alter, a Rabbi in Berlin, says that "you can find it in all levels of society." Armed guards and security checkpoints are used in Germany to watch over Jewish life in Berlin. They stand guard outside of the synagogues and the Jewish school. Alter wears his skullcap beneath a hat after four young men beat him so badly last year that he was taken to the hospital.

An academic study indicates that one in five Germans has at least "latent" antipathy towards Jews. According to the German Press Agency, the internet has played a key role in spreading Holocaust denial and far-right extreme Islamist views. An expert group was set up in 2009 to report regularly on anti-Semitism, evidence that it is a growing issue in Germany. According to the report by experts appointed by the Bundestag, anti-Jewish feeling is significantly ingrained in German society. They found that anti-Jewish sentiment was based on widespread prejudice, deeply-rooted stereotypes, and ignorance.

The latest annual report by the German domestic intelligence agency shows that there is a growing neo-Nazi scene and evidence of widespread racist and anti-Muslim sentiments. There has been an increase in the number of citizens with neo-Nazi views from 4,400 to 6,000. Experts say that these growing sentiments are a result of individual's opposition to Israel and Israeli policies. Extremist individuals who are unhappy with Israel's treatment of Palestine blame the entire Jewish population for the problems. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) was founded in 1913 "to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all." The ADL fights anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry, defends democratic ideals, and protects civil rights. The ADL fights for these beliefs in the United States and abroad through information, education, legislation, and advocacy.

The league scrutinizes and exposes extremists and hate groups, provides expertise on domestic and international terrorism, looks into the roots of hatred, and defends the security of Israel and the Jewish population worldwide. The ADL monitors, analyzes, and exposes a wide range of extremists, including both obscure and prominent groups. The league challenges world leaders and the United Nations to take action against anti-Jewish bigotry and violence, and they expose and condemn attacks on Jews. "A World of Difference" anti-bias training programs, created by the ADL, exist in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Israel, Japan, Italy, and the Netherlands. These countries have had problems with extremism or they are facing current extremist issues.

The league also fights to keep members of neo-Nazi groups from entering European parliaments. The ADL has been working to prevent members of the German National Democratic Party (NPD) from gaining strength in the country. The NPD is a far-right extremist party that possesses neo-Nazi and anti-Semitic beliefs, and the party is gaining strength as extremism rises throughout the country. Groups have submitted proposals to urge the government to ban the party, but the government is hesitant to take action. They fear that if the party is banned, it will become more violent and harder to track. The photo shows a single newborn at a maternity ward in Germany, illustrating the lack of births in the country. Germany has the lowest birth rate in Europe, and the rate is falling. Germany has a strong economy and its cities are amongst the best in the world to live in, but Germany is a "shrinking country." Its birth rate of 1.36 children per woman is not only the lowest in Europe, but also one of the lowest in the world. According to the National Statistics Office, fewer babies were born in Germany in 2011 than at any time during the country's history. There were 663,000 children born in 2011, which is 15,000 fewer than the amount in 2010. In 1964, there were almost 1.4 million births in Germany. As a result of the declining rate, Britain's population is expected to exceed Germany's by 2040.

For forty years, there have been many more deaths in Germany than births. The result will be a shrinking workforce, lower growth, and a struggle to pay for a rapidly aging population. There are fears that the problem of "schrumfnation Deutschland," shrinking Germany, will only worsen as the economic crisis in the euro zone continues to affect the country. Statisticians point to the effects of the Great Depression to show how childbearing is affected by economics because the birth rate decreased significantly during the years of the depression. The cabinet members of the German government have been working to create measures to solve the problem. Experts on demographics and family policy are divided over reasons for the reluctance to have children, and they are having trouble agreeing on ways to approach the situation. However, they agree that Germany's demographic future does not look good. Social scientists are urging the German government to fix the low birth rate by making the aspects of work and family more compatible. In many parts of Germany, parents complain of a lack of access to childcare, making it difficult to continue working after having children. Most schools in Germany finish earlier than elsewhere in Europe - in some places, as early as eleven in the morning. This makes it harder for citizens to combine work and family. Because of this, scholars believe that many families are deciding not to have children so that they can continue to work.

Angela Merkel's government has contributed large sums of money to the problem, and many see this as a mistake. Since it was started five years ago, "Elterngeld," or "parents' allowance," has cost the country more than twenty billion euros, and the results have been questionable. It is considered one of the most generous family policies in Europe. Parents can receive up to sixty five percent of their salary (it is capped at 1,800 euros) per month over a period of up to fourteen months so that they can stay home and raise their children. This year, a plan started by family minister Kristina Schroeder (the first minister to have a child in office) will guarantee every child over the age of one a childcare place. Another "family-friendly" measure involves paying women to stay at home with their toddlers. It is a controversial measure, and critics have called it a "reinforcement of the traditionalist view of women's roles" that does not fit into modern Germany. These measures are designed to help address the issue of the lack of compatibility between work and family. The elderly citizens in the photo represent the aging of Germany's general population. Due to an increase in the age of the population, Germany is preparing for the loss of five million workers over the next fifteen years. This will be the country's worst downturn since the 1930s. Germany will be Europe's first test of the problems caused by an aging and declining population. The problems of an aging population are more critical for Germany than the problem of youth unemployment - the main issue for labor ministers in the United Kingdom, France, and Spain. Youth unemployment in Germany is about eight percent, compared with twenty percent in the United Kingdom and forty percent in Spain.

The issue of an aging workforce, coupled with a low birth rate, will cause problems for the German labor force. As citizens retire, there will be a lack of individuals to fill the positions because of the low birth rate. The aging population also creates problems for the country's social welfare system. As citizens age, the use of the social services that are offered, such as pensions and health care, will increase. The social services are funded by both the government and the working-age population. As the working-age population declines, it will become more difficult for the country to sustain its social welfare system. The labor ministers of the German government are working to create solutions to the problem of an aging workforce. In 2011, labor and social affairs minister Ralf Brauksiepe told the Guardian that a longer working life and an influx of skilled workers from overseas are the answers to the demographic struggle. Restrictions on labor mobility from European Union member states in eastern Europe were lifted in 2011, but Berlin expects this to only add an extra 100,000 workers over the coming years. The measure was created so that more workers could come into Germany to replace those who are retiring.

A domestic solution has been the controversial decision to raise the retirement age from sixty-five to sixty-seven. Citizens are hesitant to make this change because sixty-five has been the age for a substantial amount of time; it was the age that was fixed in 1916 by Kaiser Wilhelm II. The changes will be made between now and 2029 and in 2029, sixty-seven will become the legal retirement age. Ministers believe that this will help to solve the problem because it will cause individuals to work for a longer amount of time, thus slowing the effects of an aging population. The image shows the Berlin Wall that physically divided East and West Germany from 1949 until reunification in 1990. Although it has been more than two decades since the fall of the physical divide, there is still inequality between the East and West. On the superficial level, the differences between the East and West are not very visible; however, beneath the surface, disparity remains. There are few differences between the eastern and western regions in terms of education and health, but the eastern economy continues to lag behind the western economy. In terms of productivity, the annual unification report showed that the eastern economy is seventy nine percent as productive as the western economy. The local tax revenues in the East are just sixty percent of the western levels. This makes it difficult for the region to independently fund projects.

The sociologists at Bielefeld University found that eastern Germans represent twenty percent of the population in the country, but under five percent of the elite in politics, business, science, and media. Angela Merkel grew up in the East, but her cabinet consists of Germans from the West. None of the thirty leading companies listed in the German share index have an east German boss. Ninety-five percent of professors of sociology or political science are originally from the West, even in east German universities. The editors-in-chief of major newspapers come from the West, even when the publications are mainly read in the East. There are minor companies in the East; however, the major headquarters are located in the West. This makes it difficult for the eastern economy to reach the western level.

A shrinking population and less economic power also make it difficult for the eastern economy to catch-up to the economy of the prosperous West. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1990, many individuals in the East lacked qualifications, and others were fired because of their links to the Communist Party. A large amount of educated individuals also left the East after reunification in search of job and education opportunities, and those individuals have not returned to the East. Since reunification, about 2.7 million people have left the region, while only about 1.6 million have entered. The result is poor job development in the East because of the lack of qualified individuals. The interior ministry department of the German government deals with the problems of economic unity between the East and the West. In order to address the problem, the government takes an annual state of unification report. Its aim is to take stock of the general developments in the East and West in order to see if the nation is on the track to economic unity. Since reunification, the government has provided large sums of money to the East in order to help with this economic unity.

For two decades, the former Communist East has been receiving massive amounts of financial aid. The state support of fifty-five billion euros for private sector investments has increased productivity in the East from forty-three percent of the western productivity levels to seventy-three percent of the western levels. This has resulted in a doubling of the average incomes in the East, but they remain below the western wages. In the summer of 2012, unemployment in Germany reached its lowest point since reunification. There were about 869,000 unemployed citizens in the East, which is an unemployment rate of 10.3 percent. Although it is an improvement for the region, the rate is still six percent higher than the western rate.

In 2010, Thomas de Maiziere, the interior minister at the time, said that the East will need the financial transfers outlined in the Solidarity Pact until 2019. Under the Solidarity Pact, eastern Germany is guaranteed financial transfers amounting to 156.6 billion euros between 2005 and 2019. Maiziere believed that by 2019, the richest communities in the East would have a good chance of catching-up to the poorer regions in the West.

In 2012, the current interior minister, Hans-Peter Friedrich, said that he desired the continuation of the flow of developmental funds into the East after 2013 because of demographic changes. Due to experts' prediction that a lack of skilled workers would continue to hurt eastern companies, the German government has developed a program called "All Ages Count." The goal of the program is to give citizens the opportunity to develop their skills and to contribute to the eastern economy. The program will train both young and old workers in the hopes of attracting people to professions that are in demand. 1949: Divided into East and West Germany
East Germany was a Communist region; the West was democratic
1990: Germany was reunified
Population (as of July 2012): 81,305,856
Current Chancellor: Angela Merkel
Germany has the strongest economy in Europe "Anti-Semitism at German Schools: Insults against Jews on the Rise," May 2006, German Press Agency, http://www.spiegel.de/international/anti-semitism-at-german-schools-insults-against-jews-on-the-rise-a-453402.html. "Germany's Baby Blues," Accessed March 13, 2013, Getty Images, http://www.presseurop.eu/en/content/article/3111401-germany-s-baby-blues. "Demographics, Economic Power Split Germany," Accessed March 13, 2013, Fotolia, http://www.dw.de/demographics-economic-power-split-germany/a-16268490. "Eurozone Crisis: Today's Dismal Growth Figures Hide Future Tensions between Germany and France," Accessed March 14, 2013, http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/finance/matspersson/100022826/eurozone-crisis-dismal-growth-leads-to-tension-germany-france/. Facts "Germany Location," December 2, 2006, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:LocationGermany.svg. "Celebrating the Fall of the Berlin Wall," November 11, 1989, Reuters, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124061856538054877.html.
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