Group of European Pensioners from Savings Banks and Financial Institutions

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Index of documents > Euromeetings Magazine > Euromeetings Number 4



IN Germany there are not 'elderly people', and less still 'old people'. Only Seniors, namely, elderly people. This is the euphemism to refer to those who have crossed the 'tropic of Capricorn' that is named the age of 65. The municipalities, for example, whose responsibilities include sectors as important as public transport, sports centres, swimmingpools, theatres, libraries, services of orientation and help in formalities, etc., often grant in these fields to the social class of 'elderly people' generous preferential treatment. And so do many non public organisations, but of primary function in the life of a country: trains, telephones, radio stations, welfare services, Red Cross and similar, offer to elderly people services at special prices, sometimes even free.

 

With the increase of life expectancy, the proportion of elderly people increases in the German population. For this reason, between those who make use of these attractive offers, and those who do not need to do it, the number of Seniors in concerts, theatres, university courses or of further studies for adults, sports centres, etc., is important. Elderly people do not only enjoy the sun on the park benches, they live an authentic 'third period', with a liberty of movements and a wide offer of activities in which to employ their time and energies usefully. Even those who want to increase their pension find many job opportunities, not full time, naturally, but part time, or hourly - flexibility is the magic word.

 

But we have just touched a red-hot subject: the retirement pension. In recent months it is the centre of strong political discussion. The government is up to its neck in debt. At the fall of the wall of Berlin, and the incorporation of 'new Länder' (Federal States) to the Federal Republic of Germany, the task of raising East Germany out of the prostration in which the communist regime had sunk it was imposed. A long task –we cannot level in ten years the ravings of nearly half a century– and of astronomic financial dimensions. The moment for saving money has arrived, not just petty cash, but with implacable budget restrictions that the government wants to apply to every social sector. Until now, the pensions, although with a modest percentage, increased always together with the net income of the working population (net: after deducting all the taxes). The logic was that the welfare was a result of the effort of the active population, but on the platform built before by the elderly. The government wants to reduce the increase of the pensions to the strict compensation of the inflation rate - fortunately very low-, therefore the rise will also be very low. In the middle of an electoral period this autumn, criticisms arise like an angry sea. But the bad thing is that they barely make sense, because the real problem is a lot more serious than that of the more or less logical levelling of the budget.

 

The serious thing is that the 'demographic factor' has reached the German people. The young generation, is getting smaller; the group of the elderly is growing. A number of active citizens that are getting smaller have to finance with its insurance instalments the pensions of a number of old people that is growing constantly. Not only is it that the age average of the German population climbs, it is that the absolute figure of population descends. If the birth and mortality rates are maintained at the present level, in a hundred years time the Germans will be only 22 million. Namely, something substantial has changed, and the government is not to blame. Under this perspective, the 'contract between generations' cannot be maintained like now. The support of the society to elderly people is going to move slowly but relentlessly from the 'preferential treatment' in cultural activities, to an area more dramatic: that of daily survival.

 

 

Eduardo Espert (Bonn)