Sun Nov 5th, 2006 at 10:16:27 AM EST
By most objective measures, one might think the mood in Germany should be pretty good right now: the economy is up, unemployment is down and Germany hosted a picture-perfect World Cup, enhanced by a fairytale performance on the part of Jürgen and his Klinsmen. So what is one to make of an item such as this, which featured so prominently in the Friday news cycle?
Süddeutsche Zeitung: New Survey: Majority of Germans is Unsatisfied with Democracy
|Der Wirtschaft geht es besser, doch die Zustimmung zu den politischen Abläufen im Land ist auf einen historischen Tiefstand gesunken. Die Bundesrepublik erscheint vielen als ein ungerechtes Land.|
Die Deutschen sind erstmals mehrheitlich nicht mehr zufrieden damit, wie die Demokratie in der Bundesrepublik funktioniert. Das ist das Ergebnis des neuesten ARD-Deutschlandtrends, der vom WDR in Köln veröffentlicht wurde.
Trotz besserer wirtschaftlicher Rahmendaten sei die gesellschaftliche Stimmung auf dem Tiefpunkt. Zufrieden mit den demokratischen Abläufen äußerten sich nur noch 49 Prozent der Befragten. Das seien elf Prozentpunkte weniger als im September 2005 und der niedrigste je im Deutschlandtrend gemessene Wert.
Auch das Empfinden, dass es in der Gesellschaft eher ungerecht zugeht, ist der Umfrage zufolge seit dem Sommer kontinuierlich gestiegen. Nur noch 27 Prozent der Bundesbürger (minus acht Prozentpunkte im Vergleich zum September 2006) bezeichnen die Situation im Land als gerecht, 66 Prozent hingegen als ungerecht (plus vier Prozentpunkte).
|The economy has improved, but approval of the nation's political processes has reached a historic low. Many perceive the Federal Republic as an unfair country.|
For the first time, a majority of Germans is no longer satisfied with the way democracy functions in the Federal Republic. This is the result of the latest "Deutschlandtrend" survey of national broadcaster ARD, which was released by member broadcaster WDR in Cologne.
In spite of better economic data, the social mood has reached a low point. Only 49 percent of respondents expressed themselves satisfied with the democratic processes. This is 11 percentage points less than in September 2005 and the lowest level ever measured in Germany.
The survey also revealed that the perception that society is more unfair than otherwise has increased continuously since the summer. Only 27 percent of German citizens (eight percentage points less than in September 2006) regard the situation in the country as fair, 66 percent consider it unfair (plus four percentage points).
A brief tour of German discontents.
Excellent diary and discussion -- afew
To begin, we need to note that the headline is misleading: Germans are not dissatisfied with democracy, but with how democratic processes play out. The website of Infratest dimap, the organization that actually conducted the survey, elaborates:
[S]atisfaction with the Great Coalition has decreased to an all-time low: only 19 percent are satisfied with the Federal government's performance. Thus, the current reputation of the Great Coalition is even worse than that of the Social Democrat-Green coalition before it was voted out in September 2005. In the fields of employment policy, retirement policy, tax policy and health care policy the population's mistrust in the parties' capability to solve the existing problems continues to be particularly high. This also applies to the parties' general capability to solve Germany's future problems.
In other words, citizens have no confidence in the ability of their government to positively influence any of the social factors that affect their daily lives. (The only exception seems to be education - and this begs the question of whether the pollsters simply forgot to list this issue.)
The long, drawn-out wrangling over health insurance "reform" has done much to damage the Merkel government's standing. Since the issue was first placed on the agenda the beginning of the year, proposals and counter-proposals have sprouted, merged, morphed and died, without producing any plan that perceptibly addresses the cost and demographic issues. As Infratest notes, "In general, two thirds [of respondents] are not confident that the Government can improve the health care system (64 percent)."
Meanwhile, the Frankfurter Rundschau emphasizes a different aspect of the study: "More and more Germans see themselves as losers."
Im Herbst 2002 hatten sich 61 Prozent als Begünstigte empfunden, 2005 noch 51 Prozent. Einst wurde vor der "Zwei-Drittel-Gesellschaft" gewarnt; nun nähert sich die Quote der gefühlten Gewinner dem Drittel. Und nur noch 27 Prozent empfinden die Republik als "eher gerecht".
In Autumn 2002, 61 percent saw themselves as beneficiaries [of social trends], and in 2005 this figure was still 51 percent. Experts used to warn of the "two-thirds society"; the proportion of subjective winners is now approaching one third. And only 27 percent perceive the Republic as being "more fair than otherwise".
Do you see yourself as being on the winning side ("Gewinner") or on the losing side ("Verlierer") of social trends?
Neither/nor: 16 (2002); 26 (2006
Of course, in light of the sustained barrage of bad news, it is no surprise that people feel threatened, nor that they see a decline in fairness. Here is just a sampling from recent months:
N24: Deutsche Bank hiring in India
Die Deutsche Bank verlagert offenbar massiv Arbeitsplätze nach Indien. Bereits im laufenden Jahr steige die Mitarbeiter allein bei den drei indischen Tochtergesellschaften DNETS, DBOI und GMC in Bombay und Bangalore von 350 auf 2200, berichtet der "Spiegel". Im kommenden Jahr würden dort über 4000 Menschen arbeiten, berief sich das Magazin auf ihm vorliegende interne Unterlagen. [...]
In der vergangenen Woche hatte die Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt am Main ihre Dreimonatsbilanz vorgelegt. Demnach stieg der Überschuss um 20 Prozent auf 1,24 Milliarden Euro. [...] Die Eigenkapitalrendite vor Steuern und Sondereffekten habe unverändert 26 Prozent betragen.
The Deutsche Bank is apparently conducting a mass shift of jobs to India. The "Spiegel" reports that in the current year, DNETS, DBOI and GMC in Bombay and Bangalore, will increase from 350 2200. Over 4000 persons will be employed there next year, the Spiegel reported, citing internal documents in its possession. [...]
The Deutsche Bank presented its quarterly financial statement in Frankfurt am Main last week. According to this, earnings increased by 20 percent to 1.24 billion euros. [...] Return on equity before taxes and special factors remained unchanged at 26 percent.
Kölnische Rundschau: Allianz cuts workforce in spite of record profits
|München - Der Versicherungskonzern Allianz will sich auf dem Weg zu einem Rekordgewinn nicht von seinen Plänen für den drastischen Stellenabbau abbringen lassen. Nach einer Gewinnverdopplung im dritten Quartal 2006 schraubte das Unternehmen die Prognose für das Gesamtjahr am Freitag abermals nach oben und erwartet nun einen Überschuss von bis zu 6,5 Milliarden Euro, nach 4,4 Milliarden Euro im Vorjahr. [...] Auch in den kommenden Jahren sollen die Gewinne weiter sprudeln. Allianz-Vorstand Helmut Perlet verteidigte dennoch den geplanten Abbau von rund 7500 Stellen im Versicherungsgeschäft und bei der Dresdner Bank. Gerade im Finanzdienstleistungssektor seien die Herausforderungen durch den schärfer werdenden Wettbewerb deutlich gewachsen. "Wir können uns nicht zurücklehnen, es sind weitere Anstrengungen nötig, um das Erreichte zu festigen", sagte Perlet.|
|Munich - On its course toward a record profit, the Allianz Insurance Group is unwilling to depart from its plans to drastically cut jobs. After doubling profits in the third quarter of 2006, the company raised its forecast for the year overall once again on Friday, and now anticipates earnings of up to 6.5 billion euros, following 4.4 billion euros in the previous year. [...] Profits are expected to expand further in the coming year as well. In spite of these developments, Allianz board member Helmut Perlet defended the planned cut of around 7500 jobs in the insurance business and at the Dresdner Bank, asserting that in the financial services sector in particular the challenges of intensifying competition have grown considerably. "We cannot relax, further efforts are needed to secure what we have achieved," said Perlet.|
Ah, the good old, "We're doing it because everyone else is" defense.
And then there's this:
Former Siemens Mobile Phone Unit Cuts 2,000 Jobs
What BenQ employees dreaded is coming true. The Taiwanese mobile phone giant is laying off about two-thirds of its German-based workforce. Employees are protesting, and unions are levelling much of their criticism at previous owner Siemens.
The inevitable is happening at BenQ Mobile. Less than a month after filing for insolvency, the German mobile phone unit of Tawainese electronics firm BenQ -- which used to belong to Siemens -- is now laying off close to 2,000 workers in Germany. That's two thirds of its workforce in the company.
"After three weeks of intensive examination, it is clear that this is the only chance of keeping the firm together," said Martin Prager, administrator of BenQ's insolvency process. BenQ filed for bankruptcy on September 29 after deciding the unit could not be made profitable. The firm had accrued 600 million in losses from the German unit since buying it from Siemens in 2005.
Siemens has been under constant criticism about the layoffs -- the mobile phone unit was already in serious financial trouble when they sold it to BenQ. Siemens management maintains BenQ had a realistic plan to save the mobile phone unit and that the Taiwanese firm may have broken agreements that were put in place during the sale to protect employees from this very eventuality. Siemens' top executives have delayed their own salary hikes to help fund assistance to laid-off workers. Nevertheless, Siemens is being accused of ditching the mobile phone unit with little regard for its employees.
The Siemens case has a particularly bad odor. It transferred its underperforming mobile phone unit to Benq roughly a year ago, after obtaining "extensive pay concessions" (as one report puts it) from employees to save the unit. However much Siemens management doth protest, the impression remains that they dumped the business on Benq with the expectation that Benq would do their dirty work for them.
These are just three recent examples - out of many, many more in this year - of companies polishing their bottom lines at the expense of the people who depend on them for their livelihoods. This is not perceived as fair. And those who remember their civics from school also understand that the persons making such decisions are trampling on the spirit of the Basic Law, Germany's constitution - in particular Article 14 (2):
Property entails obligations. Its use shall also serve the public good.
And what happens to those that lose their jobs? Well, if they're young and well-educated (particularly in a technical field), they are likely to find a good job (though they may have to relocate). But most companies are reluctant to hire persons over 40, and will not even look at someone who has hit 50. (And this in a country with a low birthrate and an aging population.) This is the greatest fear that I hear in my age cohort - that of being catapulted from a secure to a marginal existence even though one performs well and plays by the rules.
In short, then, the German public believes - with some apparent cause - that its politicians are unable to act for the public good, and have reason to assume that their economy is being run for the benefit of particular interests to the detriment of the broader public.
Political frustration - rising social inequity - increasingly precarious personal circumstances. The survey results should not come as a big surprise.
Update [2006-11-5 8:20:29 by dvx]:
To keep the pot boiling:
FAZ: Glos seeks to drastically curtail dismissal protection
05. November 2006
In der großen Koalition bahnt sich neuer Streit um eine Lockerung des Kündigungsschutzes an. Wirtschaftsminister Michael Glos machte sich für ein Modell nach dänischem Vorbild stark, bei dem der Kündigungsschutz deutlich herunterfahren und dafür mehr Arbeitslosengeld gezahlt wird. Das soll aber an schärfere Auflagen geknüpft sein. Arbeitsminister Franz Müntefering wies den Vorstoß zurück.
Glos sagte der „Welt am Sonntag“, solche Änderungen würden die Bereitschaft der Betriebe fördern, Arbeitskräfte einzustellen, und gleichzeitig die Bereitschaft der Arbeitslosen, Arbeit aufzunehmen. „Unser früher geschüttelter Nachbar Dänemark macht damit sehr gute Erfahrungen.“ Im Nachbarland sind dem Bericht zufolge die Kündigungsfristen kurz; dafür erhalten Arbeitslose aber bis zu vier Jahre maximal 90 Prozent ihres zuletzt erhaltenen Lohns. Allerdings müssen sie jede zugewiesene Arbeit oder Ausbildungsangebote annehmen, sonst droht Entzug des Arbeitslosengeldes.
05. November 2006
A new dispute over loosening dismissal protection is brewing in the Grand Coalition. Economics Minister Michael Glos [CDU] advocated a model based on the Danish example, in which dismissal protection is significantly curtailed and instead more unemployment compensation paid. This however would have to be associated with stricter requirements. Labor Minister Franz Müntefering protested this proposal.
Glos told the weekly newspaper "Welt am Sonntag" [Attention: Springer alert] that such changes would increase the readiness of businesses to hire employees, and at the same time promote the willingness of unemployed persons to accept work. "The experience of our formerly critical neighbor Denmark has been extremely positive." According to this report, notice periods in the neighboring country are short; in return, unemployed persons receive a maximum of 90 percent of their last compensation for up to four years. However, the report adds, they must accept every employment or retraining opportunity offered or risk losing their unemployment benefit.|
Can anyone comment on the Danish (or other Scandinavian) system?