In an ever aging society, politics is increasingly made for old people. The German general elections of 2017 will reflect this fact. Again, the elderly will turn out to be the winners at the ballot – no matter what party becomes the strongest political force.
50 plus voters hold an absolute majority since 2013. There is no getting around their political interests and no way to win an election against the old. Leaders from all political sides outdo each other with campaign promises lobbying seniors on a regular base. And it is hardly surprising that Angela Merkel’s cabinet (average age 54 years) cut back on a number of unpopular measures such as the extension of retirement age at 67.
Unfortunately, in this game for political power, where there is a winner, there must be a loser, too. In Germany, this turns out to be the younger generation. As they fight against the plunge into political irrelevance, it is them who will have to live with the consequences in the long run.
Naturally, old and young people do have conflicting interests and priorities. But this imbalance may turn into a real handicap for Germany economically. The country’s aging society is inflexible, conservative and not oriented towards the future. Innovation and digitization are just two examples that show that even developing nations with younger populations are bolder and more pragmatic in their approaches to progress and less anxious of implications of new technologies. Meanwhile, decisions that may have long term implications for the country are mostly taken with a shortsighted, pro-elderly view, increasing the burden placed on young and coming generations.
But if we must point fingers at someone, it would not be the elderly only. Voter turnout among the young (18 – 30) is steadily low in Germany. Regardless if this is due to a general lack of political interest among the young, rising awareness that they are incapable of shaping politics against the old majority, or the fact that their political commitment focuses on rather specific and project focused issues, such as Facebook campaigns, the youngsters will have to demonstrate their political determination to make a difference at ballot boxes. And they are well advised to do so in September 2017 as the demographic shift will be even more unfavorable in 2021.
Paradoxically, the good economic situation in Germany may turn out treacherous. So far, the grand coalition contents itself in administering the current stability, lacking visionary actions on its agenda. But growing national debt, lack of investment in education and widespread resistance of the opportunities of digitization are urgent reminders of the necessary change. As this generation will not find an adequate representative within party politics, their only chance is to look out for young politicians before deciding where to make their cross.
The author of this article is under 40. He is aware that he also will be old at some point and that growing old is somewhat easier and more comfortable in Germany than in other places. He is looking forward to be then dealing with the next generation himself and promises to listen and to argue with well-weighted judgement. In the end, parents only want the best for their kids.
The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of FTI Consulting LLP, its management, its subsidiaries, its affiliates, or its other professionals, members or employees.
Mr. Lemke has been advising clients in public affairs and political communications for almost ten years. Born in Hong Kong, he grew up in the north of Germany, and spent his student years in Spain and Canada. Back in Germany, he started his career in political campaigning, supporting the government of Germany with its nation branding activities. Since he joined FTI Consulting in 2011, he focusses on political aspects of finance, technology and consumer protection.