Energy Crisis in Germany
Thousands of Germans have received distressing letters in the mail about expensive gas bills. With utility companies such as Vattenfall, passing on the ever-increasing costs to consumers, more and more Germans cannot pay the bills. In fact, prices have increased by more than 100% since the end of 2021. Record prices of
€0.13 ($0.13) per kilowatt hour up to €0.25 per kilowatt hour by utility giant Vattenfall have become the norm. With 55% of the natural gas, 52% of the coal and 34% of mineral oil coming from Russia, Germany is as dependent on Russia as very few other Western countries. Without many alternatives, politicians fear social unrest, rationing and deep recession should the energy crisis in Germany not be under control soon.

Russian Pressure

Even worse, higher prices aren’t the tip of the iceberg. The energy crisis in Germany, due to the Russian energy sanctions that have affected the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, is becoming more and more visible. The presidential palace is no longer lit up at night, the city of Hannover is turning off warm water in public pools and gyms and the light has been switched off for 200 tourist attractions. 

Daunting Energy Predictions for the Lower-Income Classes

Much more daunting are the consequences that the population could suffer from the already existing energy crisis in Germany as well as further energy cuts. The economic and energy minister Robert Habeck predicted “mass unemployment, poverty, people who can’t heat their homes, people who run out of petrol” if Russian oil and gas became no longer available in March 2022. The German research institute IW is in agreement with the green party and warns of energy poverty” which arises when “the share of energy bills of an individual’s net income exceeds ten percent.” This was the case for 25% of all German citizens in May 2022, a 10% increase from the previous year.

Unfortunately, these figures do not favor the lower and middle classes but divide the top and bottom even further. A middle-class family household uses 18,000-kilowatt hours of energy per year on average, which cost €1,080 ($1,099) in 2021. With the price increase, the same consumption would cost a family €3,240 — an average monthly income. Citizens from the “lower middle class” that have a net income of 60 to 80% of the median income, are twice as likely to become energy poor in 2022 as in the years before. The research institute highly recommends extended social schemes to support lower-class households with their utility bills. 

Prospects of Government Relief

So far, the German government has spent €30 billion to support citizens in paying their electricity bills since the end of 2021. Chancellor Olaf Scholz added in a recent interview that the government is not planning additional social schemes but could implement them if necessary. The government is working hard to find alternative energy solutions and to get German citizens through the winter. Yet, despite requests from the Christian democratic party to cut the Russian energy supply once and for all, the government’s hands are tied and in desperate need of alternative solutions that are universally accessible to all Germans.

– Pauline Luetzenkirchen
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Women’s Rights in Germany
Germany is one of the world’s most developed countries. In 2017, it placed fourth in the world in terms of nominal GDP and has the largest economy in the European Union. Germany’s Grundgesetz (Basic Law) declares that “women and men are equal and that the state has to promote substantive, de facto, gender equality.” Yet, Germany lags behind in making gender equality a reality. There are several important facts to know about women’s rights in Germany.

4 Facts About Women’s Rights in Germany

  1. Gender Pay Gap. The “difference in average gross hourly earnings between men and women,” also known as the gender pay gap, stood at 18% in 2020 in Germany. In comparison with the EU average of 13%, Germany places among the most unequal countries in the EU. Experts attribute the gender pay gap to differing career path choices, with females typically taking on lower-paying jobs. Further, persisting traditional gender roles in German society mean women work fewer hours in order to manage “childcare and housekeeping responsibilities.”
  2. Women’s Quota. As Germany’s previous chancellor Angela Merkel illustrated with her doctoral degree in quantum chemistry, many German women have higher education qualifications. Yet, far fewer women occupy executive-level jobs in comparison to men. Despite an upward trend in recent years, women on supervisory boards remain a clear minority with 33% in Germany’s major companies in 2018. Building off of the “30[%]voluntary quota for supervisory boards introduced in 2015,” in June 2021, Germany introduced a draft law “to impose gender mandatory quotas at its largest listed companies.” The quota specifies that “boards of German listed companies with more than three members” must have at least one female member. Furthermore, “Companies in which the federal government has a majority stake will also have a mandatory quota of 30[%]of female board members.” Nationally and internationally, people view this policy as a milestone for women in management and a message of equality in society and the workplace.
  3. STEM. In 2015, in the field of non-academic research in Germany, women accounted for just 35.4% of scientific staff members — “the second-lowest figure in the EU,” after France. According to many female scientists, these figures stem from a lack of state support, such as too few childcare facilities, as well as blatant sexism and ignorance of women’s rights in Germany “by superiors who favor men.” Komm mach MINT is “a nationwide network of women in [STEM]” that aims to encourage young women to consider careers in STEM and thereby increase female representation in STEM professions in Germany. The network came about in 2008 and receives annual support of €3.2 million from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research.
  4. Domestic Violence. According to a survey that the Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (BMFSFJ) conducted, “every fourth woman in Germany has experienced domestic violence at least once in her life.” In 2002, Germany put into law the Protection Against Violence Act, allowing the “police to take immediate and pre-judicial measures to protect” women from their perpetrators. Further, the national Hilfetelefon “Gewalt gegen Frauen” (Violence against Women helpline), established in 2013, offers 24/7 support to support women affected by violence. In 2021, the hotline had about 81,600 callers and managed to help and support about 29,500 violence-affected people.

Looking Ahead

While gender quality oftentimes appears as an arduous issue to tackle, Germany is taking the right steps with national legislation for female representation in supervisory positions, initiatives to connect young women with STEM careers and providing national and immediate support for female victims of domestic violence. Should these policies live up to their potential, improved rights for women in Germany would manifest in an increase in GDP from €1.95 trillion to €3.15 trillion by 2050.

Pauline Lützenkirchen
Photo: Unsplash

Inflation in Germany
The month of April ended with one of the highest levels of inflation in Germany, with the inflation rate reaching 7.4%. and estimated to increase even more in May, potentially attaining 7.9%  or the highest rate in 50 years. The numbers can quickly become worrying, given that the purchasing power of the German people is decreasing, which puts additional pressure on the government along with the European Union to find solutions and get out of this crisis. Inflation in Germany is due to many external factors, not only affecting the country but the whole world. As always in times of crisis, the poorest are the most affected by the situation, waiting for their government to come up with solutions for relief.

Causes of the Inflation Increase

Among the most common causes of the increase in inflation rate around the world are the Coronavirus outbreak and the disruption in the supply chains it led to. Increasing the prices of goods, making them unaffordable for many people. More recently, the Russian-Ukrainian war had an important impact on the economy of European countries and especially Germany. In fact, Germany used to import 55% of its gas from Russia last year, which is not possible anymore given the sanctions the European Union placed on Moscow. This sudden cut in gas supplies became very problematic, leading to skyrocketing prices of oil, petrol and other energy products necessary for many aspects of people’s life. Similar to many other countries, the inflation in Germany is the result of consecutive crises creating disequilibrium in the economy of the country. However, Germany is more affected than others given its dependence on Russian oil and gas.

Effect of Inflation on the Poorest

While inflation in Germany is affecting everyone, the poorest, as often in times of crisis are those who struggle the most. The supermarkets must increase the prices of basic products such as meats or diaries, the increase generally ranges between 20% to 50%, making it impossible for people already in a delicate financial situation to keep the same living standards. Keeping the living standards has been harder since the increase in prices of food has accompanied skyrocketing prices of energy products. For example, in March the price of heating oil increased by 99.8% compared to last year. This drastic augmentation in prices of household necessities makes it more and more difficult for the lower income as well as the middle-income class to make ends meet.

With the timid increase in salaries barely keeping up with the increase in the living cost, one of 10 Germans are now using their savings and sometimes taking loans to be able to survive through this crisis according to a survey from April 2022.

Solutions

To get through the inflation in Germany, the state is coming up with different solutions to support its people. The lower house of parliament took some relief measures such as one-time payments to the poorest, a child supplement and reductions in electricity costs. The government also lowered taxes on fuel, making it cheaper for customers. The rise in energy prices would have potentially led to a cut in the investment of German companies, leading to closing businesses and increasing the unemployment rate. However, the actions the government took were enough to bring back the trust. Despite the crisis, the government expects the unemployment rate to decrease in 2022 going from 5.7% to 5% in one year, according to Reuters, which shows the strength of the German economy.

A Look Ahead

Hence, all the crises the world is going through, have an important impact on the inflation in Germany. However, the German economy showed once again its resilience while the German government took and is ready to take more measures to support its population during difficult times. This difficult period will also allow the country to start building its independence from foreign suppliers of basic needs.

– Youssef Yazbek
Photo: Unsplash

Germany’s Recent FloodsFloods across Germany left hundreds dead and thousands displaced. The event not only caused mourning across the European continent but also created questions regarding Germany’s disaster response strategies. However, natural disasters like flooding do not occur often in the nation, so professionals believe that citizens will recover from Germany’s recent floods.

Flooding in Germany

During one week in July 2021, severe flooding occurred across Europe due to dangerous thunderstorms and rain. News sites and governments across the world stated that this natural disaster hit Germany the hardest. The country experienced nearly six inches of rain over 24 hours. Many call it the hundred-year flood. Of the 205 lives lost due to the flooding in Europe, 173 deaths occurred in Germany. Many of those people were located in the worst-hit Rhineland-Palatinate region.

While those missing are still being sought after, recovery teams state that they have little hope of finding any more survivors. However, professionals say that the death toll could have been worse. “The floods are very localized,” Dr. Andreas Sobisch, a John Carroll University political science professor from Germany, stated. “However, Germany does not often have these natural disasters. The floods are still a bit of a shock.”

The Response From German Officials

Germany’s recent floods put a halt to the country’s national electoral campaign for many candidates. Before the disaster, weather experts cautioned German authorities about the incoming rain and potential floods. However, the leaders chose to leave prevention and relief in the hands of local officials. Unfortunately, for many communities, there were no preventative actions. This led to heavy political discussions among the German populous. There are now discussions about what their current representatives will do for flooding in the future. According to AP News, German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer stated that many were using the disaster as a time for “cheap election rhetoric.”

Politicians like Angela Merkel are now looking to improve Germany’s disaster relief. She is promoting disaster-triggered phone alerts and improving the nation’s infrastructure altogether. Yet, political competitors are seeking to prevent catastrophes like this from ever occurring again. CNBC stated that those running in the upcoming election are using the floods to promote their campaigns against climate change. Multiple meteorologists claim that the floods were a result of global warming and that there needs to be an active battle against climate change.

How Citizens Are Impacted

Currently, thousands of people have been left without homes due to Germany’s recent floods and the number is only expected to climb. Rescue teams are still searching for the hundreds missing across the country while many citizens are left in shock.

However, on July 21, the German government passed a $472 million relief package for victims of the flood. The funds will be distributed soon. Local officials will oversee divvying out the money. The package is also meant to kickstart the rebuilding of some of Germany’s lost structures, including schools and hospitals.

Although many across the world expect Germany’s reconstruction to be costly, experts believe that recovery can be accomplished in a timely manner. On the note of recovery, Dr. Sobisch states that “Germany’s economy is the same if not better than the U.S.” and that “Germany will not be set back by these floods.”

How to Help Germany

Many organizations are currently working to aid the flood victims inside Germany. A few organizations are offering help, including the German Red Cross and the German Life Saving Association. The district of Rhineland-Palatinate also set up a direct donation program through bank transfers. Other districts followed suit with their donation information available via a search of the Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance’s online directory.

Laken Kincaid
Photo: Unsplash

McDonalds Combats Global PovertyFounded in 1955, McDonald’s is one of the largest fast-food companies in the world. Renowned for its burgers and fries, McDonald’s currently offers a variety of food options in 118 different countries. As a result, the company operates more than 38,000 restaurants, employs millions of people and garners billions of dollars in revenue every year. Considering the fast-food giant’s worldwide presence, it is in a unique position to help impoverished communities around the world. Recognizing this, McDonald’s combats global poverty in several ways.

5 Ways McDonald’s Combats Global Poverty

  1. McDonald’s is one of the top employers in the world. According to Forbes, McDonald’s currently employs more than 1.9 million people worldwide. The only employers that outrank McDonald’s are the U.S. Department of Defense (3.2 million employees), China’s People’s Liberation Army (2.3 million employees) and Walmart (2.1 million employees). McDonald’s gives people around the world an opportunity to earn a living, work toward advancement opportunities and escape poverty.
  2. McDonald’s prioritizes employee education and advancement. In 2018, Mcdonald’s expanded its Archways to Opportunity program, an education initiative available to “restaurant employees in 25 countries.” The program allows employees “the opportunity to graduate from college, earn a high school diploma, learn English as a second language, complete an apprenticeship and gain access to advising services.” In Australia alone, more than 48,000 certifications have been awarded as of April 30, 2021.
  3. McDonald’s joined the European Alliance for Apprenticeships. Along with several other companies, McDonald’s supports the European Alliance for Apprenticeship’s mission to “improve access to vocational training” throughout Europe. Apprenticeships are important because they allow young people to acquire practical job experience and on-the-job skills to increase their chances of employment. Overall, in Europe, McDonald’s and other companies committed “to offer 45,000 apprenticeships by 2025.” These apprenticeships will take place in Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the U.K.
  4. McDonald’s supports Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC). RMHC is a nonprofit organization that “creates, finds and supports programs that directly improve the health and well-being of children and their families.” RMHC runs 260 Chapters in 62 nations around the world. These programs assist families with ill children by providing free accommodation near the medical center so that families can afford to be present while their child receives medical care. Additionally, the nonprofit organization Meals From The Heart works closely with McDonald’s and RMHC to provide families with freshly cooked meals during their stay. Overall, RMHC aims to offer a housing option to families experiencing financial hardship due to child medical bills.
  5. McDonald’s donated food during the COVID-19 pandemic. McDonald’s partnered with organizations, including Food Donation Connection and the Global FoodBanking Network (GFN), to donate food surpluses to families in need around the world. For example, McDonald’s donated eggs, bread and milk to struggling families in Ireland, England, Germany and Italy. Additionally, McDonald’s donated 250,000 pounds worth of food to Canadian food banks and NGOs. The company also gave thousands of liters of milk to migrant workers in Singapore.

A Significant Impact

Overall, McDonald’s combats global poverty by financing and supporting education, housing and food aid programs around the world. Despite economic and financial challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, the company’s support for communities abroad never weaned. McDonald’s continues to have a significant impact around the world by combating global poverty and helping those in need.

– Chloe Young
Photo: Flickr

germany-invests-millions-of-oda-in-vietnamAfter a series of meetings between July 20 and July 23, 2021, Germany and Vietnam announced a new landmark in their relationship. Germany pledged to invest over €113.5 million of Official Development Assistance (ODA) into Vietnam focusing on sustainable development. Notably, the deal furthers a crucial strategic partnership between Vietnam and Germany. Still, more importantly, this ODA will go a long way in supporting the Vietnamese pursuit of sustainable development. As Germany invests millions of ODA in Vietnam, Vietnam will use it to pursue sustainable development.

Deal Specifics

The memorandum was signed by Pham Hoang Mai, Director General of the Department of Foreign Service, and Gisela Hammerschmidt, Director for Asia of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. In total, the amount agreed upon is over €113.5 ($131.9 million), and it will be split and categorized in two ways. A total of $58.8 million will be given out as ODA loans, while the governments earmarked $74.57 million non-refundable ODA for 14 technical assistance and investment projects.

Both governments will focus on one of the 14 projects for pandemic prevention and relief. The Vietnamese will use $17.6 million to construct a center that will act as a focal point for epidemic forecasting and management. The $17.6 million is non-refundable ODA that the Ministry of Health first proposed to respond to Vietnam’s deteriorating Covid-19 situation.

Supporting Germany’s BMZ 2030 Strategy

Although the Vietnamese government has yet to announce most of the projects, they will support green growth. Specifically, this includes training and sustainable growth, responsibility for climate and energy, life protection and natural resources under Germany’s BMZ 2030 reform strategy.

Germany’s BMZ 2030 strategy is a comprehensive set of reforms that focuses on more efficient development assistance and investment. Specifically, it seeks to reduce inequality, environmental degradation and unsafe working conditions within the timeframe of 2030. BMZ 2030 sets the tone for future aid investments by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. A cooperative project at its core, Vietnam joins the BMZ’s long list of bilateral, reform, transformation, global and peace partners.

German-Vietnamese Relations

As Germany invests millions of ODA in Vietnam, both the Germans and the Vietnamese hope the deal is a harbinger of more cooperation to come. In identifying Vietnam as a BMZ global partner, the German government hopes to together address environmental protection and global economic security.

If the past is any indication, there exists good reason to be optimistic about future cooperation between the two countries. Over the last three decades, Germany has provided over $2 billion in ODA to Vietnam. More than money, Germany assisted in sharing its experience with sustainable and environmentally conscious growth. This bilateral relationship remains secure along with a diverse spread across other areas. In 1975, the two countries established diplomatic relations. In 2011, they promoted their bilateral relationship to a “Strategic Partnership.” The relationship centers around the shared support of the rules-based international order and free trade.

Economically, Germany is Vietnam’s largest trading partner in Europe. Since 2010, trade between the two countries has increased by over 10% every year. The trend in trade will continue to grow given the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) and the EU-Vietnam Investor Protection Agreement (EVIPA), both of which came into effect on August 1, 2020. As an investor, Germany is Vietnam’s eighteenth largest. Over 300 German businesses have invested around $2 billion in 361 Vietnamese projects. Meanwhile, Vietnamese businesses are investors in 35 projects in Germany totaling nearly $250 million.

Vietnamese Unsustainable Development

Germany’s ODA investment is essential for Vietnam at this stage in its development. Vietnam’s development in the last 30 years has been incredible. In 1986 the Communist Party of Vietnam initiated the Doi Moi Reforms, rolling back the centralized economic system to allow the market a more decisive role in the economy. The results have been particularly impressive in regards to poverty reduction. According to the Asian Development Bank, the poverty rate declined from 70% to 6% between 2002 and 2018. The reforms catapulted Vietnam from one of the world’s poorest countries into a lower-middle-income country.

Nevertheless, this development has not come without an environmental cost. The rapid growth resulted in an energy demand that outpaces supply, pushing the Vietnamese government to search out the cheapest and most available options. Overall, its electricity demand increased by an average of 10% per year for the last five years. However, due to the quickened pace, Vietnam has increasingly relied on coal. In 2019, coal was 36% of Vietnam’s energy mix and is expected to remain such during the new National Power Development Plan, 2021-2030. Nevertheless, the Vietnamese government has sought cleaner sources of energy to power their developing economy. Hydropower already makes up a significant proportion of its energy mix (26%). Wind and solar energy increased from less than 1% in 2014 to 10% in 2019. In the new ten-year National Power Development Plan, 2021-2030, the government has committed to increasing renewable energy supply to 15-20% by 2030.

An Exciting Step Forward

As Vietnam struggles to transition into a middle-income country, affording a transition from coal to renewables is critical. Given the quick increase in demand and coal’s cheap and available nature, this transition is difficult. Yet, Germany’s ODA, which focuses on sustainable development, is key to Vietnam’s struggle to secure a clean economy. It is a crucial first step. But, given the enduring partnership of the two, we can expect more cooperation to come. As Germany invests millions of ODA in Vietnam, Vietnam will use it to pursue sustainable development.

– Vincenzo Caporale
Photo: Flickr

Elderly Poverty in GermanyFrom 2006 to 2016, elderly poverty in Germany (people older than 55 years old) increased from 4.5 to 5.6 million people. According to the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), the percentage of people who face poverty while receiving retirement money could increase from 16.8% to 21.6% by 2039. In other words, one in five German pensioners could face impoverished conditions by 2039. Germany intends to combat elderly poverty with a basic pension plan.

Elderly Poverty in Germany

People who receive “less than 60%” of their average working salary from their retirement funds are currently considered at risk of facing poverty. This equals a monthly retirement income of less than €905 or $997. The percentage of people depending on other financial government assistance may also rise from 9% to 12% by 2039. These people would have monthly retirement incomes of no more than €777.

3 Main Pension Systems

A German pensioner can choose from three main pension systems. The German pension apparatus consists of a “pay-as-you-go system,” which is combined with other supplemental plans. The supplemental pension plans intend to provide funds in addition to the state pension that pensioners already receive.

  1. State Pension. This pension plans awards about 70% of net income to people older than 65 who have been working in Germany for at least five years. Enrollment in the state pension plan is mandatory for everyone working in Germany.
  2. Company Pension. The company pension plan is a plan workers can monetarily contribute to via the employer. The plan intends to augment the state pension plan and has become the most popular retirement plan in Germany.
  3. Private Retirement Scheme. This plan is established through insurance organizations and banks. The German government promotes these plans through tax incentives and bonus benefits.

Despite the three main pension plans that Germany has implemented, those working for a lifetime in Germany still struggle to make ends meet after retiring. This is especially relevant for those employed in low-earning careers.

The Basic Pension Plan

Since the amount of state pension given to a pensioner depends on their net income, those who participated in low-earning jobs are at increased risk of facing poverty. To address this, Germany recently decided to implement a new basic pension plan, which ensures that those who have been working in Germany for a significant amount of time will receive a basic amount of pension.

In January 2021, the German federal government enacted the basic pension plan to combat elderly poverty in Germany. This plan guarantees that individuals who have contributed to the German state pension system for a minimum of 35 years receive a basic pension in addition to their original state pension. The additional basic pension ensures that the pensioner has enough money to pay for fundamental necessities. No application is necessary as the government utilizes an automatic system for these basic pension benefits.

According to German legislator Malu Dreyer, more than 1.4 million people will benefit from the basic pension plan. Furthermore, a significant portion of women will benefit from the plan as four out of five beneficiaries will be women. The plan also rewards those who took time off work for familial caretaking as long as their total employment time meets the minimum requirements.

Looking to the Future

In hopes of decreasing elderly poverty rates, Germany implemented the basic pension plan, which aims to provide its low-earning citizens with enough funds to secure their basic needs after retiring. The state pension only provides the pensioner with 70% of their net income, which can be problematic for citizens who spent their lives working in low-paying positions.

The German government estimates that the plan will benefit more than 1.4 million people, providing hope that more than a million elderly citizens will not live the remaining years of their lives in poverty. Overall, the German government presents a clear path ahead for combating elderly poverty in Germany.

Lauren Spiers
Photo: Flickr

gender wage gap in germanyData from May 2019 indicates that German women receive an average of 21% less wages than German men. Germany holds one of the largest gender pay gaps in the European Union, a gap that has since widened due to COVID-19.  As a consequence of the gender wage gap in Germany, German women endure poverty at a higher rate than German men. However, recent policies, lawmaking proposals and continued strong stimulus provide hope and solutions for a future of gender equality within Germany’s workforce.

The Gender Wage Gap in Germany

Despite the presence of Germany’s long-standing female chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the country’s overall reputation of upholding socially progressive policies, Germany holds the third-largest pay gap in the European Union as of 2017, ranking just behind Estonia and the Czech Republic. As of March 15, 2019, for every two lawmakers in Germany’s parliament, there exists only one female.

These pay gap inequalities force German women into poverty at a rate disproportional to men in Germany, much like the rest of the world. According to the European Union’s statistics office, 7.1 million German women faced poverty in 2017 compared to 6.1 million men. Furthermore, German women face a 16.6% risk of falling into poverty compared to a 15.2% risk for men, according to a 2021 report.

The correlation of a gender pay gap and poverty exists on an international scale as well. On September 14, 2020, the U.N. reported a global gender pay gap of 16%, meaning that female employees earn 84% of the amount their male equivalents earn globally. The global gender wage gap is especially divisive for women of color, immigrant women and mothers.

COVID-19 and Pay Inequality

According to a U.N. estimate on September 2, 2020, the U.N. expects the poverty rate for women to increase by  9.1% due to COVID-19. Germany is no exception to this global prediction. According to a Reuters report from May 14, 2020, 27% of women in Germany have had to reduce their working hours for child care purposes. In contrast, this percentage is more than the reported 16% of men (in households with at least one child younger than 14) who had to cut their working hours.

In addition, Reuters reports that this disparity is more likely in households with low or medium incomes rather than higher incomes. According to a BBC poll, German women reported facing higher financial impacts of COVID-19 than men. Roughly 32% of German women reported experiencing financial impacts of the novel coronavirus compared with 24% of men.

Closing the Gap

As the gender wage gap increases with the effects of COVID-19 both across the world and throughout Germany, hope comes in the form of advocacy, legislation and awareness. On March 4, 2021, the European Union proposed a law to compel companies to close gender pay gaps. The law also allows candidates access to salary information during interviews.

The law goes as far as imposing possible sanctions on companies that fail to comply. Under this proposed law, women employees can challenge employers when not equally compensated. The challenges then go through independent monitors with the goal to seek proper payment or treatment of all female employees.

Germany’s Successes

Additionally, Germany’s consistent social stimulus throughout 2020 and into 2021 provided great economic protections for the country as a whole. Germany excels in stimulus protections and aid when compared to the majority of the world. According to The New York Times, when the primary jobholder in a family of two parents and two children loses a job in the United States, the family retains 28% of their previous income. Contrastingly, the same family would maintain 75% of their income in Germany. The New York Times describes this as a “reflection of the country’s far more generous social safety net,” listing this outcome as one of the many benefits of strong, continued economic stimulus.

Overall, while Germany continues to combat the gender pay gap as an increasing number of women and girls enter poverty due to COVID-19, recent policies surrounding transparency, accountability and fiscal stimulus in the workforce provide much hope for the future.

Lillian Ellis
Photo: Flickr

SDG 14 in Germany
Germany is aiming to fulfill Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14: Life Below Water while also strengthening its maritime economy. The country passed an agenda that aims to bolster the industry and simultaneously provide clean energy throughout national and international waters by 2025. While aquaculture remains a small component of Germany’s maritime sector, the country is hoping to incorporate clean, sustainable energy tactics and preserve quality maritime food production. Here are some updates on SDG 14 in Germany.

About the Sustainable Development Goals

The month of June 2021 served as the focal point for the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 13: Climate Action; 14: Life Below Water; and 15: Life on Land. Germany is one of many countries dedicating its resources and research to fulfilling the United Nations (UN) 2030 Agenda. Adopted by all U.N. Member States in 2015, it includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) for each state to reach by 2030.

Germany’s focus is on SDG 3: Good Health and Well-Being; SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production; and SDGs 13, 14 and 15. SDG 14 calls upon countries to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, countries’ efforts to complete SDG 14 did not diminish. According to the U.N., the ocean can be an ally against COVID-19, as marine life – such as bacteria – are useful in detecting the presence of the virus through rapid tests. Organisms in the ocean are also an asset to pharmaceutical companies when developing vaccines and immunizations.

Updates on SDG 14 in Germany in 2021

Surprisingly, only 10% of the German population had knowledge of the SDGs in 2018, according to the European Environmental Agency. The country needed public support from the population to complete the environmental SDGs, including SDG 14. The German federal government created a campaign to draw attention to the goals and outline the importance of sustainable energy in Germany, particularly in the maritime sector.

The government also created the German Sustainable Development Strategy in 2016 to match the U.N.’s 2030 Agenda, which tracks the country’s progress in completing SDG 13, 14 and 15, specifically. The Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development launched plans for marine conservation and sustainable fisheries with an allocation of over €180 million and also created MAREN, a federal research and development program. The “N” stands for Nachhaltigkeit (sustainability).

Currently, Germany’s overall score for all the SDGs is 82.5, compared to the regional average of 77.2. However, the country is below 75% for achieving SDG 12, 13 and 14. The country is facing significant challenges to achieve SDG 14 but is moderately improving as time goes on.

The United Nations reported that in 2020, the mean protected area coverage for marine life sat at 44% globally. As of February 2021, Germany reported a protection rate of 69.4% regarding the country’s areas important to marine life biodiversity. A member of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Germany holds an international spillover index of 60.4, almost 10 points behind the 70.1 average for OECD members.

How Germany is Improving in Regard to SDG 14

Among the six indicators for SDG 14, Germany is improving in two areas. The amount of fish that fishermen caught from overexploited or collapsed stocks – 46.6% as of 2014 – remains a significant challenge for the country, despite Germany’s progress towards achieving SDG 14. Fishing by trawling or dredging (21.3 as of 2016) is a slight challenge, but also is improving at an SDG-approved rate.

Germany’s most significant challenge is achieving a clean waters score in the Ocean Health Index. The index measures to what degree chemicals, human pathogens and trash contaminated marine waters. The country’s score is 51.0, with 0 being the worst and 100 being the best.

According to a 2020 report from the Ocean Health Index, the decrease in Germany’s score comes from three areas: Clean Water, Food Provisions and Fisheries (a subgroup of Food Provisions). While Germany is not one of the top 10 countries for fish provisions and aquaculture, these three areas directly correspond to the success of Germany’s maritime industry.

The Situation in Bremen

Bremen is one of Germany’s forefront maritime cities, with a long history of shipbuilding companies and suppliers. It is the second-largest port in Germany and is important to the job industry. In 2019, Bremen was home to 1,300 companies and at least 40,000 employees. Bremen’s ports make up 30% of the region’s economy.

In the same year, Bremen had the highest poverty risk rates in Germany, sitting at 22.7%, compared to Bayern, which had a poverty risk rate of 11.7%, and Berlin, with a rate of 18.2%. In 2020, Bremen’s percentage increased to 24.9%. According to Deutsche Welle, in 2017, one in every four adults and one in every three children in Bremen were poor. Bremen has experienced significant unemployment. In fact, it had a 5.1% unemployment rate in 2019. Improving the maritime industry with SDG 14 efforts could lower the poverty risk in maritime cities such as Bremen, by providing jobs and boosting the economy as a whole.

How the Maritime Industry is Important to the German Economy

Strengthening Germany’s maritime economy is vital to the country’s success. Estimates from the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy have placed an annual turnover at €50 billion and 400,000 jobs. The Ministry is researching effective methods to improve the maritime sector while also adhering to efforts towards sustainable energy, mitigating environmental challenges, creating jobs and protecting the global environment.

In 2017, Germany’s Federal Cabinet approved the Maritime Agenda 2025, dedicated to turning the country into a maritime hub. The agenda placed emphasis on sustainability. The federal government will set aside funding for clean energy fuel sources and ship propulsion systems. The agenda also calls upon the international system to develop environmental standards similar to that of the SDGs. Area of action four of the agenda focuses on shaping maritime transport sustainability. In 2013, the federal government presented options for alternative fuels and new, energy-saving technologies that can support those fuels.

Wind Energy

One of the options includes wind power. As of June 7, 2021, Germany plans to expand offshore wind power in the Baltic and North Seas, particularly along with Dogger Bank, which sits in the middle of the North Sea. Building offshore wind turbines is a significant step in Germany’s progress toward reaching SDG 14 and its Maritime Agenda 2025. Using sea winds as a renewable energy source was the last of the new alternative technologies that emerged as part of the environmental plan for sustainable energy in Germany.

Various environmental groups raised concerns about how the introduction of turbines on the Dogger Bank will affect marine life and fisheries in the area. Germany created co-use options that will both provide sustainable energy for Germany and allow fish to pass through fish traps, baskets and nets. By 2030, one area in both the Baltic and North Seas undergo designation as a priority area for wind energy.

German wind farms in the North Sea have already safely produced more electricity than in years prior. It is clear that progress in creating sustainable energy in Germany is moving in a positive direction, bringing the country closer to achieving its goal of reaching SDG 14 in Germany.

– Rachel Schilke
Photo: Flickr

Social inequality in GermanyResearch shows that levels of social inequality in Germany could increase COVID-19 transmission rates among people experiencing poor living and working conditions. Evidence does not conclusively determine that poverty directly causes Germany’s COVID-19 cases. However, it is apparent to scientists and medical professionals that a large number of COVID-19 patients come from low socioeconomic standing. In 2015, 2.8 million German children were at risk of poverty. The influx of migrants flowing into Germany has also increased rates of poverty in Germany.

Poverty and COVID-19

According to the CIA World Factbook, 14.8% of the German population lives below the poverty line as of June 2021. According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), the North Rhine-Westphalia area has the highest number of COVID-19 cases. The area is home to Gelsenkirchen, the most impoverished German city based on a 2019 report by the Hans Böckler Foundation.

Risks of Overcrowding

Overcrowded living areas are more susceptible to airborne illnesses, medical sociologist Nico Dragono said in an interview with The Borgen Project. In 2019, 8% of Germans lived in overcrowded dwellings, meaning there were fewer rooms compared to inhabitants. This percentage has increased in recent years, according to Statistisches Bundesamt (German Federal Office of Statistics).

In November 2020, statistics showed that 12.7% of the population residing in cities lived in overcrowded dwellings. Comparatively, 5.5% reside in small cities or suburbs and 4% reside in rural areas. Dragono says that social inequality in Germany plays a significant role in the spread of disease across the country’s large cities. This especially impacts those living in close proximity to others. “Infections clustered in the areas of the city where the poor live because there simply was no space,” Dragono says. He says further that with many people living in one household, traveling to school, work and other places holds an increased risk of bringing infections into the home.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated on February 26, 2021, that COVID-19 is transferable through respiratory droplets from people within close proximity of each other. This puts those in poverty at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19. Those living in areas such as refugee camps and impoverished neighborhoods are especially vulnerable. Therefore, social inequality in Germany may contribute to the spread of COVID-19.

Migrants Potentially at Higher Risk

Dragono says that, unlike the United States, Germany does not document patients’ ethnicities. In other words, Germany cannot collect the demographics of who contracts COVID-19. He said it appears the association between COVID-19 and social inequality in Germany is universal for migrants and non-migrants. However, many hospitals across Germany reported that close to 90% of COVID-19 patients in the intensive care unit have an immigrant background, according to Deutsche Welle.

“Migrants are more often poor because they do many of the bad jobs,” Dragono says. There are indications that COVID-19 is more prevalent in the areas inhabited by migrants. “Migrant workers, as they grow older, many have diseases, because in general, they are doing hard work… so their hospitalization rates could be a bit higher.” Dragono says Germans’ social status and income determine how much access they have to quality resources. It is easier for upper-class citizens to purchase masks and use personal travel and they do not have to rely on public transportation or low-quality protective gear.

On June 5, 2021, the German health ministry came under fire regarding a report that dictated its plan to dispose of unusable face masks by giving them to impoverished populations. However, the health ministry released a statement that all of its masks are high quality and receive thorough testing. Any defective masks are put into storage.

Assistance From Caritas Germany

As the virus continues to spread, many organizations are extending assistance to disadvantaged citizens in Germany. Some services translate COVID-19 information into migrants’ languages or modify other services to fit COVID-19 guidelines. Caritas Germany, one of the largest German welfare organizations, typically operates childcare services, homeless shelters and counseling for migrants.

To comply with COVID-19, Caritas began offering online services such as therapy and counseling. The organization also travels to low-income areas and focuses on providing personal protective equipment to those working with the elderly. Many Caritas volunteers use technology to maintain distance while also maintaining communication with patients. Since the beginning of the pandemic, hundreds of volunteers have trained in online counseling.

However, Dragono says that while the country has systems in place to avoid broadening the poverty gap, the serious implications of COVID-19 on social inequality in Germany are yet to emerge. Fortunately, organizations are committed to mitigating some of the impacts of COVID-19 on disadvantaged people in Germany.

– Rachel Schilke
Photo: Unsplash