Press Release 01/2013

Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel debates with the German Ethics Council on solidarity under conditions of demographic change

What is the responsibility of the individual and society for shaping demographic change? How can solidarity and tolerance be encouraged? These questions were debated by the German Ethics Council with Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel and over 350 guests at a meeting in the Council’s Bioethics Forum series.

Over the next few decades the population of Germany will decline, while the proportion accounted for by both older people and those with a migrant background will increase.

The Chair of the Ethics Council, Christiane Woopen, noted that first of all barriers in people’s minds must be overcome. “Interest and appreciation as the fundamental attitude to differing lifestyle choices; creativity in the development of new forms of communal learning, working and living; and the fair apportionment of rights and duties among young and old – these will be the indispensable foundations of solidarity in a society in the throes of demographic change,” said Professor Woopen.

Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel thanked the German Ethics Council for choosing to address this subject. It was in her view essential, precisely where slowly evolving processes were concerned, to reflect at an early stage on possible policies, for instance with regard to the overall environment for families, healthcare, integration, the world of work and the sustainability of social security systems. At the same time she emphasized the particular importance of citizen commitment to formal and informal voluntary work as a complement to the functions of government. The process of civic dialogue had shown that many people were thinking about approaches to living together in harmony and were willing to engage in formal voluntary activity. On her “demography tour” she had been impressed by the range and diversity of high-quality projects undertaken. These activities should be encouraged by a flexible approach to the powers of local, Land and Federal authorities.

Elisabeth Steinhagen-Thiessen, a member of the Council, stressed the importance of prevention for good health at any age. To this end there was a need for the assumption of greater responsibility and competence on the part of the individual. With a view to satisfying the constantly increasing demand in the healthcare sector, she called for a reallocation of resources and the setting of new priorities; for this purpose the institutions of state should initiate a process of social discourse.

Wolfgang Huber, another member of the Council, pointed out that all generations living at one and the same time should be considered together. In particular, however, people of middle years merited particular attention because of their responsibility for bringing up the younger generation and caring for their elders. An essential factor in the promotion of solidarity in the face of demographic change was in his view the approach adopted by our society to the phenomenon of migration. Reticence was still the order of the day in drawing attention to the contribution of migration to the mitigation of demographic imbalances. It should not be forgotten that solidarity in society had a specific religious and inter-faith aspect too.

Questions from the floor, as summarized by Council member Jochen Taupitz, were debated in the ensuing panel discussion. Both the Federal Chancellor and the panellists stressed the need for action extending across the boundaries of individual spheres of government; other issues addressed were the tension between formal voluntary activity and the world of paid work, the future of the nation-state mindset and the contributions of the churches and religious communities to solidarity in society. With regard to all these matters, a clear consensus emerged that creativity in the approach to the various phases of life and lifestyle choices was a key desideratum. By means of models such as caregiver leave, the state provides for flexibility so as to facilitate formal voluntary activity. It is also committed to supporting families. In order to keep abreast of demographic change, barriers must be overcome – in the field of legislation and regulation; quite literally with regard to cross-border migration; and in particular also in people’s minds.

The evening’s contributions are accessible (in German) as both audio and text.