Navigation and service

Berlin Address by Federal President Horst Köhler 17 June 2008

Bundespräsident Horst Köhler am Rednerpult vor blauem Hintergrund Berlin, 17 June 2008 Photo: Sandra Steins, BPA © Photo: Sandra Steins, BPA

"Work, Education, Integration"

The school year has almost ended. Just a few more tests (good luck with them!) and then the summer holidays begin. It's the season of "Abi parties" and quite a few cars now bear the proud and happy label "ABI 2008".(The German higher education entrance qualification is known as Abitur, Abi for short.)

Ladies and gentlemen, from today on, whenever you hear or read the word "ABI", please think not just of school-leaving certificates but also of three goals for Germany: work, education, integration.(In German the first letters of the three goals Arbeit, Bildung, Integration form the acronym ABI.)

Work, education, integration - why are these particular goals so important? Because by their nature they are creative and secure freedom. Work creates income and secures material freedom. Education creates confidence in oneself and one's abilities, it secures inner freedom. Integration creates cohesion and secures political freedom. If any of these three is lacking, the others, too, will be compromised. On the other hand, the better we get in terms of work, of education, of integration, the greater our progress on all three fronts and the greater our country's ability to tap its true potential. That makes every effort worthwhile.

Work: here we can report some initial successes. In the course of the past three years over 1.6 million people out of work have found new jobs. These include a great many older people who until recently had a very hard time finding new employment and also a great many who had been out of work for a considerable period.

That is real progress and does our country a tremendous amount of good - especially those now back at work and their families. In families with children, for instance, a full-time job for either parent will in five out of six cases protect the family from poverty. But work doesn't just mean money coming into the house. Work also makes us more content, for most of us want to make a living and support our families by our own efforts. Work is a stimulus in our lives, helps us plan the day, provides new contacts with customers and colleagues. Of course going to work is often tough, but first and foremost it means we are needed and can stand on our own feet.

Even those who don't earn much at first have at least a foot in the door, a chance to work themselves up the ladder. Even those who need income support despite holding down a job are doing what they can, calling on the support of society only to the extent necessary. That is fair and deserves our respect. Everyone should have a decent basic income and be able through their own earnings to provide at least some of it themselves. In the low-paid and unskilled job sector we need also a host of doors and ladders opening the way to occupational training and better paid employment.

High rates of employment, best of all full employment, help us all. It reduces spending on unemployment benefits and enables us to cut the contributions needed to fund them. High employment means people are better able to save for their old age and fewer demands are made on our social security systems. High employment means more wages and salaries are being paid, which in turn boosts domestic demand and creates new jobs. This generates prosperity not just for private citizens but also for the whole nation, for instead of spending taxpayers' money on welfare benefits and interest on loans the federal and state governments and also our local authorities can invest in those fundamentals that generate future prosperity. And much higher employment, even full employment is possible if we recognize what that requires, what opportunities are there to be grasped - and act accordingly.

If we take a good look around at the international environment, the prospects for more jobs in Germany are clearly fantastic. In today's fast-changing world billions of people can look forward to a better quality of life.

That's the result of a growing world economy. Some people feel this growth is threatening and destructive; but they are wrong. Firstly, all over the world there is increasing recognition that global markets require political management and on this we have already made a start. We need to actively take this work forward, fixing our sights firmly on the priorities: climate protection and regulation of the international financial markets. Secondly, global growth is the most effective weapon we have in the fight against hunger and poverty. Thirdly, growth will by and large make the world a more wholesome place than it is today. Think for a moment what modernization means in a country such as China or Brazil whose megacities are home to millions! All these cities need safe drinking water, they need new, clean power plants to replace the old polluting ones, low-emission buses and cars and well-planned transport systems for everything from food to household waste. To develop all this means growth and at the same time less environmental pollution and more efficient use of resources. Developing all this makes the world a better place - and we Germans in particular have the knowhow required to do just that and do good business into the bargain.

This is the process by which nations such as Mexico, China and Russia are becoming modern economies, on a par with those with which Germany has been trading for decades. That's why the world economy and global trade are likely to go on growing strongly. And with our favourable location in the heart of Europe, Germany will continue to reap major benefit from all the changes going on around us and opportunities for trade.

In a nutshell, our mechanical engineers, our logistics experts, our environmental technologies industry, our power plant builders, our specialists on clean solar, wind and hydro power generation as well as our car-makers, who have been experimenting for years with new drive technologies such as fuel cells and better batteries for solar-powered vehicles - for them all the global market holds a wealth of opportunity.

And that's not the end of it. The more prosperous nations become, thanks to hard work and good ideas, the keener they will be to acquire also those pleasant little extras we produce - everything from fountain pens to watches. Also in the age of globalization there are good profits to be made from well-designed and finely crafted products.

Many nations face challenges at home similar to our own and if we can devise and implement effective responses, would gladly pay to copy them. Take just one example. Due to demographic change we as a nation will over the years ahead become older, fewer and more diverse. That same goes for other nations. And we're all wondering how we're going to manage this process. How do we encourage solidarity between the generations? How do we adapt our infrastructure to this new situation, from schools to rural transport? How do we organize good and affordable health services and care of the elderly? And how do we organize everyday life in every area from urban development to telecommunications - not as now either specifically for the elderly or for the young, but so it can be enjoyed by everyone? These are all problems we need to solve anyway - and we will thereby be creating new jobs here in Germany. And there's a nice bonus attached, for much of what we're particularly good at in this field we can also sell to others. So even here globalization spells opportunity.

On the domestic front there is much we ourselves can do to create more good jobs in Germany. Let me list the seven most important points.

1. German companies need more well-trained young people. They need more apprentices with the necessary core skills and more highly qualified skilled workers. We have far too few young engineers and far too few students taking mathematics and natural science degrees. Let me state clearly: that doesn't mean we no longer need people trained in the humanities. They will always be needed. But we need large numbers of young scientists and engineers to fill job vacancies or take up new jobs - also because jobs for people with top qualifications always create a whole swathe of other jobs for average earners. So that means there's much campaigning to be done to make these school subjects more attractive, encourage more young women to go for such degrees - and to our Abitur class of 2008 let me point out that the career prospects here are excellent!

An intelligent immigration policy can help us attract additional talent, which given our declining birth rate we can well use. But what is an intelligent immigration policy? In the United States immigrants and their children are estimated to have won three to four times as many Nobel Prizes and other arts and science awards as those who have lived there for generations. Some western democracies select their immigrants so carefully that they are in fact better educated than the average citizen born and bred there. We must make a deliberate effort to attract talented people from abroad, not just tolerate their presence. We need to stand up and tell them we in Germany are a strong team, we're making you an attractive offer and we'd be delighted to have you join us.

2. As a country with ideas Germany can make far more of its potential to create innovations of real value. Such innovations are products and services produced and performed fairly and sustainably and which make life easier, healthier and safer. That requires a great deal of research and development. Both government and industry need to invest much more in R & D, also because in some sectors crucial to our future we have to make up lost ground. The federal and state governments as well as local authorities can help by renewing our infrastructure, introducing modern traffic control systems and other advanced technologies.

3. But is there the money for all this? Absolutely. In recent years our companies have made good profits. The lion's share should be ploughed back into the creative core of our economy - R & D activities, company modernization, staff training. For good entrepreneurs that goes without saying. They could do more, I feel, to explain to their employees how profits are the seed for the next harvest as well as for a steady stream of new jobs. Government for its part can raise a great deal of money for our research institutes if it learns to be more efficient across the board. But unfortunately one study after another shows that in many western industrialized nations every euro of taxpayers' money achieves far more than it does in Germany - more education, more social security, more protection against poverty. As shrewd observers of the political scene have commented, we Germans take careful note of what we spend on this or that worthy cause, but we don't concern ourselves nearly enough with outcomes. That's something to which we really should pay more attention. Focusing on outcomes enhances quality and prevents waste. Reducing the gigantic national debt also saves good money being wasted on interest payments. Subsidies could also be reviewed to see if they still promote ongoing modernization. Public funds should be used not to conserve the past but to build the future.

4. We have many good companies, but in the interest of jobs and prosperity we need many more. Here we can learn from others. A few years ago the Massachusetts Institute of Technology - MIT - in the United States calculated just for fun that its graduates had set up some 4000 companies, whose total turnover put them in the same league as the world's 30 biggest economies. What can be done to encourage a new "age of entrepreneurs" in Germany? A great deal. We need to start with the schools. They can give children a solid grounding in economic basics and the experience of running a school company. Both at the workplace and during studies and training a host of advisory services and other kinds of support should be available for people wanting to start their own business. Another equally important factor is public opinion. If the general public applauds pioneers, celebrates their successes and doesn't equate setbacks with failure, people with ideas, people keen to tread new paths are much readier to take the plunge. To start their own business they need more than encouragement, of course. Unfortunately we still have too few well-off people in Germany willing to provide young talent with capital - although there are certainly plenty with the means to do so. We also have relatively few so-called senior experts mentoring entrepreneurs who are just getting going. And our banks should consider whether it's not also in their own interest to give more attention and concrete support to those keen to launch new business ideas.

5. Almost everyone in Germany would love to see fewer regulations, a better tax system and lower contributions. Are they wrong to do so? No. Many of the rules that govern our daily lives make sense and provide security. But there are plenty, too, that are merely a nuisance and cost good money. The Federal Government has rightly set itself the target of cutting the cost of bureaucracy by 25 % by 2011. Even more important is a tax system that is clear, simple, effective and fair. For years our tax system has been anything but that. No one knows their way around the intricacies of the system, hardly anyone even has a rough grasp of it. Most people just try to muddle through and keep their tax bill as low as possible, which may result in them making the most absurd investments. Our tax system is, moreover, becoming increasingly unfair. Even skilled workers and their families are now often paying taxes at rates that used to apply only to the rich. Average earners may find a pay rise quickly puts them into a higher tax bracket and the gap between net and gross income grows even wider. All this undermines tax compliance and people's willingness to make that extra effort. Any improvement in this area does a power of good to everyone in jobs and also the German job market.

Lower non-wage labour costs would also do our country good. For over a century social security costs in Germany have been borne first and foremost by workers, employees and private-sector employers. That made sense as long as it was normal for people to spend their whole working lives in the same workplace. But now these labour costs are hindering job creation, to the detriment of the unskilled in particular, and thereby preventing full employment - the most important source of funding for all government action. I believe it would be a good thing to give further thought to how our social security system could in the long term be funded to a greater extent through taxes - also because then everyone would be contributing commensurate with their ability to do so.

6. Overall, work in Germany has to become more attractive. And above all more family-friendly. That means we need far more good childcare and well-functioning, all-day schools.

Being in work should also be more attractive than being out of work, claiming benefit and at the same time doing casual jobs or moonlighting. Honest work must, in comparison, pay a lot better. And it's up to the job centres to point people - by pressure or by persuasion and encouragement - in the direction of honest work. That we owe also to the millions of average earners, who work hard, pay their contributions and stick to the rules.

Work is much more attractive when in offices and factories there's a climate of mutual trust and cooperation between employees and employers. That requires moderation and fairness on both sides, also in sharing the product of their joint efforts. It also means standing shoulder to shoulder when times are rough. For that there has to be a shared space - so an unequivocal "yes" to regional collective agreements and strong trade unions, but also "yes" to company-level alliances for jobs and whatever it needs to remain competitive!

Finally, attractive work means being free as far as possible from the fear that if you lose your present job, it'll be a long time before you find another. The best way to deal with this fear is to organize a labour market that continually creates new jobs rather than protecting a shrinking number of existing ones. If it doesn't take long to find a good job, people need have no fear of "Hartz IV".(Hartz IV is a package of labour market reforms that introduced a new, lower benefit for the longterm unemployed.)A flexible labour market is crucial for full employment. We can achieve stability in a changing world only if we ourselves are prepared to embrace change.

7. The agenda described in the six points I've listed is one we're capable of achieving, as the successes of the past three years on the employment front demonstrate. Of course they are partly due to the dynamic growth of the world economy. But above all they are the result of strenuous efforts: by companies that have modernized, whose international success is based on quality and performance; by employees who've been doing a first-rate job and opted for moderate pay rises; and by political leaders, who've made a good start in the right direction with reforms such as the new subsidy for private pension insurance, raising the retirement age to 67 and the Agenda 2010. In the past three years 1.6 million people have been told, "Yes, we'll take you on". Can we even imagine how much hope and fresh courage that has inspired all around us? So the last of the seven most important things we can do ourselves to create more work in Germany is this: rather than finding fault with or even reversing what we've achieved, we should energetically press forward, for it's clear the path we're now on is the right one.

For that we need an Agenda 2020. "Agenda" means literally "what needs to be done". A list of what needs to be done not only gives a sense of direction but also helps us learn as we go along and make the necessary changes. To such an agenda as many people as possible should contribute, for obviously it can be achieved only if everyone pulls together. We urgently need, for example, a nationwide strategy to promote energy and resource efficiency. We need to work out practical solutions that will also be successful in other parts of the world. That also has implications for our lifestyle. As I see it, changes in our lifestyle may even bring us a better quality of life. But I don't want to go into that right now.

All this will require a great deal of further effort - but doing nothing will get us nowhere. So let's have a debate about what our Agenda 2020 should look like and then let's get to work on it, with a cool head and a passionate heart!

Education - that was the theme of my September 2006 Berlin Address on "Education for All" in the Kepler-Oberschule in Neukölln. It's still topical today. Let me spell out the key points.

Education is concerned first and foremost with the individual, not the needs of the economy or the labour market. Anyone seeking education is not just looking for knowledge but also something more. A sure sense of their bearings, for instance. Also the ability to be self-critical, open to new ideas and capable of unbiased scrutiny; conscious of their own roots and globally-minded; in charge of their own lives and ready to shoulder responsibility. To become all that must be possible for each and every one of us. That is vital for our country, too, for good education makes for social cohesion and economic strength.

Germany needs a climate in which enthusiasm for education and understanding of its importance are a matter of course. We need to become a country where everyone learns how to learn, cultivates their curiosity and is involved in education throughout their lives. A country in which education is respected and people seeking education receive recognition and support.

It's high time Germany at last provided everyone with good education. The extent to which in our current education system a child's future depends on their background is a real cause of shame. For example, the children of parents who have not been to university are three times less likely to have the chance to attend a grammar school than the children of university-educated parents. Only 23 out of a hundred children of parents who have not been to university go on to higher education, compared with 83 out of a hundred children of university-educated parents. Almost every fifth school-leaver with an immigrant background leaves school with no qualifications at all and two out of five fail to complete any vocational training. Their job prospects and prospects of upward mobility are correspondingly dim.

This situation is not due to ill will on anyone's part. But definitely too often to indifference, lack of motivation and a tendency to look the other way - on all sides. That has to stop. What we need all over the country are intensive German-language courses for immigrant children and their parents, too, if necessary; statutory language tests before children enter school; and systematic help for all children who are struggling, whether or not they're from immigrant backgrounds. School curricula have to devote enough time to music, art and physical education. And as far as possible there should be schemes all over the country to help every child keen to learn a musical instrument or try out what's on offer at their local sports club.

Our education system must not give anyone up or leave anyone behind - or allow anyone to just drift along. There's one thing young people in school and training as well as afterwards have to realize: knowledge, skills and education don't just happen by some kind of automatic, one-off process, they are the product of their own lifelong efforts. No more school drop-outs, a worthwhile qualification for every school-leaver and at long last an ambitious scheme to encourage career-long training - these are all sound goals for the Agenda 2020. And whoever has what it takes for the Abitur and higher education should receive encouragement and support, whether what's at issue is the type of secondary school teachers recommend to parents or a fair funding system for university students. As far as my own school career was concerned, I was lucky. My teacher, Mr Balle, recommended my parents to send me to grammar school. But surely nowadays that shouldn't be a question of luck!

We need to offer first-class education already at the infant and pre-school stage. We need smooth transitions from one stage of education to the next. Right from the start we need to give everyone individual help, including also those who are especially gifted. We need schools and universities that once again enjoy a worldwide reputation for quality - not because we crave prestige but because we care deeply about our schoolchildren and students. To do all that our education system needs more money. So let no one think falling numbers in our schools and universities are a good reason to cut spending here!

What could help our schools and universities to achieve these goals? It would help them to have greater scope to make their own choices and less bureaucratic interference; more teachers and more educational ambition; even more understanding and support from parents and far more interest and support from the general public; less reformitis where structures and curricula in our complex federal jungle are concerned and greater emphasis on nationwide quality standards, along with pressure on those doing less well to perform better.

In a nutshell, on the education front we should be doing more for everyone - and expecting more from everyone, too. That will enable countless people to acquire more inner autonomy, make more of their talents and contribute more to making Germany a place where everyone feels valued and can participate more fully in the life of our society.

Integration: This word is used above all in the context of the relationship between established populations and immigrants. That is, however, just one part of the concept, albeit an important one. Integration means forging a whole from diverse coexisting groups - from old and young, from urban and rural populations, from rich and poor, and from any other pair of opposites you care to name.

Our diversity has two wellsprings: each and every one of us is unique, and we are all equally free - we have different talents, hopes and opinions, and we are able to think, speak and act freely. This is a fertile combination that enables us to shape our lives as we choose, to work with others, to help each other. A wide variety of lifestyles and social groups have thus emerged in our society.

Our freedom and diversity also give rise to constant competition. Anyone arguing for his views and interests is liable to come up against others who have diametrically opposed views and interests. This gives rise to competitiveness. Competition is ubiquitous. It is at the heart of our actions when haggling over the price of a car or seeking to win millions of customers ahead of a rival business, when arguing with the neighbours about politics or organizing national election campaigns.

Competition is also a valuable incentive. It encourages people to come up with good arguments and find good solutions. But competition between opinions and interests has to remain fair and open so that nobody is oppressed or exploited. In addition, the wide variety of lifestyles and social groups can only be maintained if everybody displays sufficient understanding and consideration to banish distrust and provide the strength to tackle the tasks of concern to us all.

For these reasons our freedom requires commitment, our coexistence needs rules that are accepted, considered fair and upheld by all. The three most important pillars for political, economic and social integration with a view to forging a cohesive whole from our diversity are democracy, a social market economy and civil society. There are thousands of interconnections between these three pillars, and in Germany all three pillars need to be worked on to improve integration.

Democracy is absolute rule by political equals. It is built on mutual recognition of the freedom of all men and women and on the realization that leadership is necessary even among free individuals in order to lend form to their coexistence. In a democracy, all citizens have the same political rights. All people are assumed to be rational and ready to judge and participate in public affairs. But due to the time that this would consume, the citizens must in practice rely on their elected representatives. Somebody once calculated that if a nation of a thousand people wanted to decide everything important by referendum, and everybody was given ten minutes to speak on any issue, that nation would need 167 hours for every single point on its agenda. No nation can do that. And so in a democracy people's representatives are elected at regular intervals. They are charged with conducting daily politics, they are accountable to their fellow-citizens and if they do not meet with their approval they will lose their seats at the next election. Their decisions shape our daily lives - it is elected politicians we have to thank for the fact that we drive on the right side of the road, for tenants' rights, for the charges for using public swimming pools and for military service.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am sure you will agree with me that our elected representatives in the Federal Republic of Germany have done a very good job so far. They have created a modern legal and social order and successfully anchored the country in Europe and the international community. The democratic parties have proven extremely willing to work together over the past decades. This willingness was unfortunately not always there in the past. Indeed, a lack of cooperation between parties was one of the reasons for the collapse of the Weimar Republic. The political order enshrined in the Basic Law and our welfare state based on the rule of law lay the foundation for a high degree of freedom, security and prosperity. Local self-administration and the division of competences between the Länder - the federal states - and the Federation itself provide a good basis for governing efficiently and close to the citizens whilst leaving plenty of scope for citizens to take responsibility and decisions at the lowest possible level. These are all positive features of our state, and we can be happy and grateful that they exist.

However, more and more people in Germany are becoming increasingly unhappy with the way in which our democracy works. Many citizens complain that it is gradually becoming harder and harder to say who is really responsible for any given issue in this country. Attempts are made to introduce ever more regulation and promises are made to take action, but many measures seem less than helpful - just confusing and contradictory. Political debates and decisions are, it is said, guided too much by party-political and private interests and too little by what would genuinely be best for the country. Decision-making procedures are long and complicated, and the decisions they produce are often seen as half-hearted and half-baked. Parliaments and Governments in Germany seem to find it more difficult than those in other European democracies to take and implement crucial decisions. And the citizens feel they have too little political influence to do much about it.

This dissatisfaction and apathy can be countered with various arguments. But it should be taken seriously. Our democracy rightly builds on people's powers of judgment. Public opinion is thus an important guide, especially when evaluating the quality of politics in action. Ignoring or papering over justified public criticism is not a long-term solution. On the contrary, anyone who holds elected office should respond to criticism by seeking dialogue with the public and identifying the cause of any problems.

Anyone who studies our political order more closely soon wants to change it. The widespread dissatisfaction with political processes and what they produce is not without foundation. Above all, the competences and financial arrangements of the Federation, the Länder and local authorities are so entangled that none of them can complete any major projects on their own, and nobody can be really called to book for failure or inaction. This interdependence constantly forces them into negotiations behind closed doors which result in tit-for-tat packages that tend to give something to most of the participants without taking anything away, or if so only from third parties with no say in the matter. These tendencies are magnified by the all-pervasive party politicking as well as the Bundesrat's composition and voting rules.

Moreover, the endless stream of local, regional and federal elections means that it is always campaign season. This makes it harder for government majorities everywhere to pursue long-term plans and to take decisions that will initially be unwelcome. Instead, governments are enticed by electioneering considerations to focus on promises and winning favour. That is short-sighted and sadly "too true to be good" (Curt Bois). Our political machinery could do with being more creative; at present it fudges over issues of responsibility, responds too slowly to new challenges and has trouble tackling tasks that need to be addressed with the long term in mind.

However, it is now more important than ever for responsive, quick, effective and far-sighted political action to be taken in order to make up for the omissions of the past, to promote our interests in Europe and around the world and to meet the new challenges presented by international competition and the imperatives of sustainable management and demographic change.

As I said, the basic structures of our political order have proven their worth, and for that we should be grateful. However, our democracy is a compound of responsibilities, decision-making powers and negotiating constraints that could well be improved for the benefit of our citizens. I am always surprised when proposals are met with the objection, "but that would alter the current balance of power." The balance of power is not an end in itself! The aim must be to strengthen the integrational power of our democracy by increasing democratic transparency and participation, improving the ability of democratic bodies to get things done, and enhancing responsibility.

Fortunately, work on this has already begun. It is still somewhat too early to evaluate the success of the first "federalism reform", which took effect in September 2006. Under the influence of the Federal Constitutional Court, this reform partially disentangled the competences of the Federation and the Länder, in part so that decisions of the German Bundestag do not require the consent of the Bundesrat quite so often. Opinions still differ as to whether this reform has really achieved anything much. If need be, further reforms will have to follow. We should also be under no illusions - this first reform will remain a solitary fragment if we do not also succeed in reorganizing Federation-Länder finances, something that is currently under discussion. I hope these deliberations produce the required results - for the good of us all! Democratic transparency and responsibility are enhanced if, at federal, Land and local level, elected representatives and the people are as aware as possible of the cost of their decisions, have to bear the costs themselves and cannot pass them on to someone else.

Democratic participation could be enhanced by amending electoral law. I do not advocate introducing a first-past-the-post system. Our present electoral system has proven its worth and the parties' ability to work within coalitions ensures that we have governments capable of doing their job. But voters could for example be given more say in which candidates on the party lists get the seats - it does not always have to be those who head the lists. That would also give those elected a stronger position within their own parties. The almost permanent campaigning which is now the norm could be minimized by extending the Bundestag's legislative term to five years, and by opting to hold more Land and local elections simultaneously. Finally, is it really impossible to adopt new voting rules for the Bundesrat to make it less prone to deadlock and less liable to veto threats? Improving the situation in the Bundesrat would strengthen the German Bundestag and the Länder parliaments, and would also make decision-making processes more transparent.

Suggestions of this kind are often met with the objection that they are unrealistic, because they require the support of people who stand to lose from them. But does self-interest really carry more weight with our elected representatives than the public interest? That I cannot believe. Countless conversations have convinced me that a very large number of office-holders from parliaments, governments and courts across the country want to see institutional improvements made to our democratic policy and opinion-forming mechanisms and ability to shape our society.

Above and beyond this, much remains to be done to improve scientific and academic guidance for political action and to systematically measure the effectiveness and cost of such action. Germany does not have reliable systems for reporting and assessing social policy. In education, for example, it was not until the international PISA study was conducted here that we introduced nationwide standards and reports. In family policy, such a miscellany of measures has accumulated over the decades that we now need to sift through them and decide which are of any use at all. In all areas we need more old-fashioned common sense. We need someone who asks: "What does that cost?", "What will that achieve?", "Who's going to pay for it?". In my opinion further suggestions such as those from Klaus von Dohnanyi and Franz Walter also bear thinking about. One of them suggests creating an independent institution to assess our federal system and find models to improve its performance; the other suggests establishing an institute to systematically teach people about our democratic order and canvas support for it.

This brings me to the second point I want to make to all those who are dissatisfied with democracy: It is your democracy, too, so please help make it better! There are many ways of playing your part. It would for example do our country good if more men and women from all spheres of life were to channel their expertise and their interest in politics into one of the political parties. The proportion of the electorate who are paid-up members of a political party is much lower here than it is on average in other European democracies. This is not so much the fault of the parties, which are no worse than they are elsewhere. They are happy to gain new members and are currently learning how to make themselves more attractive to mobile, time-strapped people.

But local authorities as well as professional, cultural and social institutions are also dependent on citizens who volunteer to work for them and play a role in their community. There are thousands of elected offices to be filled on municipal and community councils, professional bodies and advisory boards - democrats, put yourselves forward!

The least we should do for our democracy is give it our attention. Unfortunately interest in politics has been waning for years, above all among younger people. That is not good. An alert body politic is irreplaceable both for those governing and those governed.

For those governing it provides orientation and oversight. They are not obliged to fulfil all the wishes of the public. Indeed, it is a sign of political strength not to do so where there is good cause not to, and to convince the voters of the wisdom of your choices. For this reason the members of our parliament are not obliged to vote as their constituents would like. But public opinion is an important corrective where it does not itself seek to rule, but provides reasoned guidance for the elected representatives.

Among those being governed, political activity fosters cohesion in diversity. In political debates we act as citizens who care deeply about the community and its values, who feel responsible for its institutions and laws which protect the freedom and dignity of us all. That forms a bond which goes far deeper than any difference in profession or income, religion or nationality, ethnic origin or postcode. I believe that this democratic cohesion forged by civic engagement will acquire ever more importance. It needs to be nurtured. As Friedrich Ebert said in November 1918, the unifying bond in Germany shall henceforth be democracy. We must not turn back the clock.

The Federation and Länder can do yet more to foster cohesion between democrats. This cohesion depends not only on shared knowledge and convictions, but also on a body of shared memories, emotions and experiences, forms of expression in which we all recognize ourselves, as well as shared role models and a common cultural past. This common ground can be consolidated at school, as well as by public holidays and symbols. Several exist already - the Day of German Unity of course, the Day of Remembrance for the Victims of National Socialism, and the Länder public holidays. But we could do yet more to strengthen awareness of the talent for freedom that we Germans have exercised since 1945 and which should be an imperative for us all and spur us on. After all, what we stand for makes an exciting and moving narrative - from the constitutive Parliamentary Council squeezed between the stuffed animals in Bonn's Museum König, to the refugees in the Prague Embassy singing the German national anthem when they were finally allowed to leave Czechoslovakia, Willy Brandt kneeling before the Warsaw Memorial to the uprising in the Jewish Ghetto, and the men and women throughout the GDR who 55 years ago today dared rise up for unity and right and freedom. This is our history and our country!

Our democratic identity and sense of participation also have an impact on the relationship between the indigenous population and immigrants. Integration will succeed if new arrivals feel welcome, if they are respected because they seize the opportunities our country offers, and if they are willing to become part of the diverse whole - distinguishable, but a part nevertheless. For this to happen, the diverse whole must be identifiable, tangible and attractive. It will be if we nurture what we have in common, as described above, and live by the values that shape our liberal democracy: the love of freedom, equality, and tolerance in matters of religion and conscience. The logical conclusion is that we should naturalize and grant equal rights of democratic participation to all immigrants who have become genuinely integrated, who want to permanently settle in Germany and who share our values. Conversely, anyone who does not want to do that should ask themselves where they really belong. In all events, exclaves of other states governed by their own law shall not take root in Germany.

The social market economy has also had a beneficial impact on our life together. It, too, is built on understanding, approval and trust. These pillars also need more care and attention than before. Democracy and market economies are both rooted in freedom. But freedom cannot be absolute - we do not want to give in to either the tyranny of the market or the tyranny of numbers. For that reason, a social market economy contains numerous institutions and rules to control the markets. Within the framework thus created, the citizens are free to pursue their interests to their mutual advantage, competition for scarce resources remains fair, and each individual is motivated to contribute in order to obtain something in return.

There continues to be broad support for market economy institutions such as contract and property law and trade watchdogs. But many people have the impression that these institutions are no longer any use in preventing the disintegration of our society - that the social market economy is failing to fulfil its integrative role. There are three claims that are often made: the rich are getting richer and the poor ever poorer; the middle classes, from skilled workers up, are shrinking; and a small group of managers and entrepreneurs have lost touch with reality and think only of themselves.

In my opinion all three claims are exaggerated. But it is understandable that they are made, and that in itself is injurious to confidence in our economic order. The causes must therefore be identified and addressed. The chances of successfully doing this are good.

Where do the exaggerations lie? Germany spends billions of euros to assist the worse-off members of society. Child poverty in particular - which usually leads to a life of disadvantage - is something we should not tolerate. It is scandalous. But child poverty in Germany is below the European average. The number of homeless people has been more or less halved since 1998. At present, poverty in old-age is almost non-existent. The upturn on the labour market has further increased the income of many households, and this has not yet been taken into account in the poverty statistics.

It is true that the middle class bears the burden of high taxation and less favourable rules on private provision for old age - neither of which are caused by the market economy as such or globalization. In 1960, the top tax band only applied to incomes that were 18 times the average. But it now applies to people who earn less than twice the average income - i.e. to many middle class taxpayers. It would be a step in the right direction if we were finally to relieve the burden on such people, for example also by taxing all forms of income more equally.

The vast majority of businessmen and managers are very much aware of their responsibility to their firms and their staff. They have worked marvels in the past years, for otherwise the German economy would not be doing as well as it is today. There are just as many good patriots among top executives and business owners as in any other cross-section of the population.

It is important to correct the exaggerations. But I must admit that I, too, am disappointed that opportunities are not fairly distributed in our society and that therefore too little is done to create a more equitable society. This is what the cure must focus on.

In Germany, society is not porous enough, social mobility is too limited. This affects low-income families and the middle classes in particular. Fewer people from these groups are moving up than they did ten, fifteen years ago. Many are scared of moving down instead. If we want to change that for good, we will have to further adjust the philosophy and mode of functioning of our welfare state from giving care to providing encouragement, support and even pressure for self-improvement. We will need - to say it once again - an education system with excellent courses for everyone, and we should make competition fairer so that jobs with good prospects for promotion are indeed filled on the basis of merit. This will all take time, and it will not make upward mobility any easier for the individual, but it will be possible.

Wherever managers' salaries and severance payments seem to be about to lose all relation to their performance, the companies' owners and supervisory boards must step in. They must ensure moderation and set a good example. I think that companies have started to rethink this issue. That is to be welcomed.

It will take a long time to regain the trust lost because of managerial misconduct in some German companies, from tax evasion to spying on their own employees. The fact that these problems came to light is a good sign. But the fact that these are isolated cases is cold comfort. For if reality is too complex to be subjected to comprehensive controls, we have to rely on symbolic spot checks. So if a prominent member of society is caught breaking the rules and, worse, imagines that he is above them, the conclusion drawn by many people will be "that's what they all do". And anyone who has come to this conclusion will be sorely tempted to think only about what he can get out of society for himself. That is the start of a slippery slope.

For this reason, people in high positions have a special responsibility, whether they want it or not. Their misconduct must be investigated and condemned without any consideration for their position. The rich and powerful aren't allowed to drive through red lights in Germany either.

Of course, I would like entrepreneurs and businesses to do more than obey the Highway Code. In these times, when the world economy is undergoing rapid change, they should invest particularly carefully in creating good jobs in Germany. They should take a longer-term view when managing their businesses, improve their employees' skills through lifelong learning and endeavour to become an established part of the local community. This is, thank goodness, standard practice for most companies, and it is being spread yet further through partnerships. For example, the Mining, Chemical and Energy Industrial Union and the German Chemical Employers' Association last year established a forum with the goal of promoting the social market economy and drawing up guidelines on how to foster business success, a good atmosphere at work, sustainable management and fair globalization. I will soon be a guest at this forum, and look forward to hearing what it has achieved.

All in all, our social market economy deserves our trust. If we live by its dictates, it can continue to do its job in the age of globalization. However, the social market economy will always be dependent on virtues that have been upheld for centuries by honourable merchants and simple folk alike: hard work, decency and moderation.

Our civil society is built on freedom and a willingness to assume responsibility. In this country everybody is allowed to fulfil their potential and pursue their interests, alone or with others. This has resulted in a wealth of clubs and societies that enrich our day-to-day lives - from local bowling clubs to theatre groups, from school boards to church choirs, from the German Red Cross to the voluntary fire brigade. Incidentally, the political parties, business associations and trade unions should also be mentioned here. All these groupings live from people's readiness to do something for the common good, and taken together they provide an infinite number of ways to meet other people, realize one's own potential and give meaning to one's life. They foster a sense of identity and community, and are at the same time an expression of civic autonomy, for autonomy does not mean a lack of loyalties and ties but rather the ability to create one's own loyalties and ties. That is why civil society in all its many facets is so indispensable for our democracy. Civic engagement gives us a taste for self-determination and is a training ground for the skills that good democrats need, such as organizational talent and the ability to compromise. Anyone who has helped organize a school-leaving ball, a football tournament or a rally on Labour Day will know what I am talking about!

Civil society and democracy should not however be confused with one another. Personal freedom does not entitle one to rule over others. No civil society initiative, however much it is in the public interest, can claim to act and take decisions on behalf of the people. Only those democratically elected - directly by the people or indirectly through their elected representatives - have that right. This distinction is important. No civil society group - be it a local residents committee, a lobby group or a political party - can claim to speak for the people, and the people's elected representatives must not allow decisions to be taken out of their hands. Only they are under a duty to serve the common good; interest groups are not.

Nor is civil society a corrective or replacement for a lack of state action. Nobody should ever consider rolling back our welfare state with the cheerful aside that civil society can fill the gap. It often works the other way round, as a look around the world reveals: civil society is likely to be especially vibrant in democratic states which are particularly concerned about public welfare. We've already done quite well on this front here in Germany. But we should continue to work hard in order to find the best possible balance, and we should thereby promote small, local groups and foster their ability to act. "Give the people a free hand and let them get on with it" - this principle could still be practised much more widely.

Civil society forges cohesion in many different ways that the state and executive never could. This is powerfully illustrated by initiatives such as the "Cadolzburg model" and the "SFA video group". In Cadolzburg, pensioners befriend school pupils, often from immigrant families, who are in danger of leaving school without qualifications. Each pensioner pairs up with a young person, meets them every week, listens to their concerns, offers advice, and is simply there for them. Under this scheme, some 250 coaches now work at 20 schools in Middle Franconia, Bavaria. They are succeeding where teachers and youth workers often fail - the pupils learn to trust them, become more self-confident and thus do much better at school.

The SFA video group in Soltau has existed since 1985. Each week young people make a film about what's going on in Soltau and the surrounding area, and show their film in an old people's home. They also interview the pensioners and spend time talking to them. One member of the video group told me, "the work's a lot of fun and the old people are a real inspiration for us."

These two examples alone show how much can be achieved through civic engagement, how enjoyable it can be for those involved and also hint at the opportunities that have yet to be discovered, for instance in connection with intergenerational exchange.

If people are free, we have to rely on them to contribute voluntarily to the community. We can encourage them to do so, for example by creating better framework conditions. We can encourage them to give money to philanthropic foundations. In Germany, we not only have hidden poverty, we also have hidden wealth. This, too, should be talked about. The Association of German Foundations is already addressing this issue. It approaches well-off people and asks, "Could we help you do something meaningful with your money? Set up a charitable foundation, for example?" And ever more often, the answer is yes.

The municipalities and communities could also further improve framework conditions for civic engagement and foster a sense of inclusion and community, provided of course that they themselves are granted the necessary discretion and funds. We need a large number of attractive venues and institutions, from youth centres to public sports fields, where people from diverse walks of life and with different life experiences can come together. In addition, we should direct our efforts at encouraging precisely those people to join in who are on the margins of society - be it because they feel excluded, for example because they are out of work, or be it because they perhaps think they are above it all.

Lastly, we should do much more to celebrate and show our recognition of all those who contribute to the community and organize projects that foster a sense of belonging. Any mark of appreciation will do - from flowers from the local council to a free seat in the local theatre.

This strengthens our civil society and so helps forge a cohesive whole from our diversity.

And that is why revitalizing our democracy, our social market economy and our civil society must be part of Agenda 2020.

Work, education, integration - let us decide together what needs to be done on these issues. If we are clear about our goals and all contribute to achieving them, we can look to the future with optimism.

I think we will manage it if we try.

Oh, and one last thing - from now on, please remember that "ABI" stands for more than just a school-leaving certificate.