Disparità sociali in Germania: Mind the Gap

Disparità sociali in Germania: Mind the Gap

Potsdamer Platz

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Social disparity in Germany is growing, and the gap between poverty and affluence is widening. The rich are getting ever richer, and the poor poorer still. Even though Germany’s growth is greater and more solid than elsewhere in Europe, the German social model raises numerous problematic issues, the wealth gap being one of them.
In recent months, several reports have been published in Germany on poverty within the Federal Republic. Not all of the data agrees on every point, but one thing is very clear and common to all studies: the rich and the poor are moving further apart. The reports, then, analyze aworrying social phenomenon,which is one of the most typical today, not only in Berlin, but also in other European countries.
As far back as last September the German Ministry of Employment published a report on wealth and poverty showing how the problem of the gap between the two hadworsened in recent years.The Ministry’s report, headed by Ursula von der Leyden (CDU), was strongly criticized by Philipp Rosier (FDP), the Liberals’Minister of the Economy, in that it presented data which differed partially from that presented by his ministry and because it seemed to suggest that a supertax on wealth could be introduced, which was not on the government’s agenda. Aftermonths of tension and somemodifications, the Ministry of Employment’s report was approved by the Council ofMinisters in early March. Naturally there was no lack of controversy when the first version was published in September and several sections were deleted. The picture that emerges is one of a society divided by the growing social inequality of the years 2007 to 2011.

The report’s findings however are not all negative. Overall, despite the crisis, the German economy is doing well as all the growth indicators show. The report also shows that the number of citizens claiming socalled Harts 1V – social aid – has fallen. (…)
On the sidelines of this discussion another debate has recently been occupying the pages of the national newspapers, that of executive pay. Spurred by the Swiss referendum, thanks to which shareholders now have a major say regarding the salaries awarded in big companies, demand is growing in Germany for a reduction in, and a cap on, executives’ salaries. The liberals of the FDP, at their last conference, agreed upon the need to put a limit on salaries. But the liberals are not the only ones on the German political scene to be moving in this direction. The SPD and CDU also seem favorable, albeit with some reservations.
Meanwhile the European Commission has announced its intention to prepare a lawallowing shareholders to vote on executives’ salaries.
To return to the question of social change in Germany, the data on the relationship between wealth and poverty highlights another extremely relevant factor: the end to the Mittelschicht, the German middle class. This has been constantly and inexorably diminishing.
According to the study “Mittelschichtsgesellschaft unter Druck?” (Middle Class Under Pressure), carried out by the previously cited DIW and presented in December 2012, the German middle class accounted for 65% of the population in 1997 and 58.5% in 2010. In terms of numbers of people it has fallen by 5.5 million to 47.3 million.
It is therefore evident that what with the very low birth rate and the increasing gap between rich and
poor, the German Federal Republic is facing a profound social change, the consequences ofwhich are, as yet, unpredictable.
It is no coincidence that the German journalist Kathrin Fischer has used the term “laminate generation” to describe the growing insecurity of the middle class. Once, the middle class had parquet floors in their homes, now it is cheap and cheerful laminate. It is a fitting metaphor to describe the crisis of the German middle class.
Last October, in Die Zeit, Elisabeth Niejar called for a political debate onwealth and poverty: “Whenwill we begin to discuss social justice? In Germany, about ten years ago, at the time of the center-left government reforms, justice was often under discussion.
Therewere a lot of changes tomake andmuchmore to understand. Today, it seems that the Germans have learned the lesson that poverty is not only a material problem.” Public discussion has not begun, because, as
Hans-Ulrich Wehler notes, there is a systematic attempt to discourage it. But perhaps a start is being
made. A broadcast on Germany’s television channel ARD emphasized how the problem of poverty is not linked exclusively to material wealth, but also to the possibility of having normal human and social relationships.
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Potsdamer Platz
di Ubaldo Villani-Lubelli
Postdamer Platz: blog di approfondimento sulla Germania: cultura, politica, sport, attualità e costume. Uno sguardo di un italiano (con lunga esperienza in Germania) sul paese più discusso del momento, con l’intento di provare a spiegare un paese complesso e difficile da decifrare.

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