Berlin frets: Cater to old or invest in young?

German chancellor Angela Merkel and Martin Schulz, leader of Germany's social democratic SPD party shaking hands before a televised debate in Berlin on Sept 3, 2017.
German chancellor Angela Merkel and Martin Schulz, leader of Germany's social democratic SPD party shaking hands before a televised debate in Berlin on Sept 3, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

BERLIN * Save for pensioners or invest in young people?

It is one of the most prickly debates across Germany ahead of the Sept 24 elections, and with voters over 60 making up the biggest share of the electorate, politicians are going all out 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.

As the pace of ageing accelerates, the chances that policies would be tailor-made for the elderly rise as senior citizens' voices get louder. The ''grey vote'' goes largely to the two big parties, Dr Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union and Mr Schulz's Social Democratic Party.

 

Former president Roman Herzog had in 2008 warned political parties against ''paying disproportionate attention'' to the elderly as their numbers rise, as ''it could end up in a situation where older generations plunder the younger ones''.

Those above 60 make up 36.1 per cent of the electorate while voters under 40 make up 29.3 per cent, reflecting both Germany's low birth rates and rising life expectancies.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 17, 2017, with the headline 'Berlin frets: Cater to old or invest in young?'. Print Edition | Subscribe