Germany’s ‘grey vote’ has the youth worried
TV debate between Merkel, her rival sparks concerns of a democracy tailor-made for elderly
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.
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.