Ger­many’s ‘grey vote’ has the youth wor­ried

TV de­bate be­tween Merkel, her ri­val sparks con­cerns of a democ­racy tai­lor-made for el­derly

Gulf News - - Europe/ United Kingdom -

Save for pen­sion­ers or in­vest in young peo­ple? It’s one of the most prickly de­bates across Ger­many ahead of next week’s elec­tion, and with vot­ers over 60 mak­ing up the big­gest share of the elec­torate, politi­cians are pulling out all the stops to charm re­tirees.

But that is rais­ing fears that in do­ing so, can­di­dates may be fail­ing to suf­fi­ciently in­vest in the fu­ture. Dur­ing their sole tele­vised de­bate, Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel and her main ri­val Martin Schulz both fell over them­selves to pledge that mov­ing up the re­tire­ment age to 70 was out of the ques­tion.

But dur­ing the 90-minute clash, there was hardly a men­tion of ed­u­ca­tion or the dig­i­tal econ­omy — both weak links in Ger­many, where child poverty is also on the rise.

“Age­ing is a very good thing... but of course, there will be reper­cus­sions on democ­racy,” said Wolf­gang Gru­endinger, a 33-year-old his­to­rian and spokesman for a foun­da­tion that ad­vo­cates the rights of younger gen­er­a­tions.

The gov­ern­ment will al­ways find re­sources for a pen­sion pack­age, he said, even as it tight­ens the bud­get else­where.

As the pace of Ger­many’s age­ing ac­cel­er­ates, the chances that poli­cies would be tai­lor­made for the el­derly rise as se­nior cit­i­zens’ voices get louder. The “grey vote” goes largely to Ger­many’s two big par­ties, Merkel’s con­ser­va­tive Chris­tian Demo­cratic Union or Schulz’s So­cial Demo­cratic Party.

The lib­eral FDP also man­ages to get a slice of this vote, a re­cent study by the DIW eco­nomic in­sti­tute said.

For­mer pres­i­dent Ro­man Her­zog had al­ready warned in 2008 against a “pen­sioner democ­racy” which would be con­demned to a slow death.

Warn­ing po­lit­i­cal par­ties against “pay­ing dis­pro­por­tion­ate at­ten­tion” to the el­derly as their num­bers rise, Her­zog said then that “it could end up in a sit­u­a­tion where older gen­er­a­tions plun­der the younger ones.”

The de­bate has been re­vived ahead of the elec­tions on Septem­ber 24, as those above 60 will make up the big­gest pro­por­tion — 36.1 per cent — of the elec­torate, ac­cord­ing to Ger­many’s GDV fed­er­a­tion of in­sur­ers.

Vot­ers un­der 40 will make up less than a third (29.3 per cent), re­flect­ing both Ger­many’s low birth rates and ris­ing life ex­pectan­cies.

AP

This combo im­age shows Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel chair­ing her weekly cab­i­net meet­ing over the years. Merkel and her main ri­val were at pains to charm re­tirees dur­ing a tele­vised de­bate.

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