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Europe

German Press Review: Increasing Retirement Age?

German newspapers on Tuesday were focused on the forthcoming report by the so-called Rürup Commission, a government-backed panel of experts entrusted to come up with reform suggestions for Germany’s pensions system.

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Retiring too early?

A twenty-six member Rürup Commission has been never far from the headlines in Germany since it was first set up in November. It is named after its chairman, Bert Rürup, an economics professor concentrating on public policy, and has been charged with putting forward proposals for the reform of Germany's health care and pension system so it can shoulder the burden of demographic change in the years to come. On Thursday, the commission will present its completed report to Health Minister Ulla Schmidt. Its contents though have already started percolating through the media. They include the suggestion that the retirement age in Germany be raised from sixty-five to sixty-seven.

The tabloid Berliner Kurier said the idea is that Rürup wants to make everybody wait an extra two years before they start taking money out of the pension coffers. But old age places physical restraints on our capabilities, the paper commented. Surely Rürup does not expect a policeman or a fireman still to be on active duty at the age of nearly seventy? No, the paper said. But the new ruling would also hit those who opt for early retirement, they would receive an even smaller fraction of the full pension than they do at the moment. Some might even grit their teeth and decide to carry on working until the age of sixty-five.

Berlin’s conservative Die Welt explained that commissions do not only have the task of finding solutions to complex problems. Much more important is their role as a cushioning mechanism in the political decision making process. The Rürup Commission is a shrewd mix of all the lobby groups and experts who have the reputation of being trouble-makers in the sphere of social and welfare reform. They were kept occupied for months on end, while the political machinery kept on turning behind their backs. The cacophony that came out of such a diverse body must hardly come as a surprise. Its plans for savings in health care have already been superseded by new legislation. Its plans for pension reforms will probably soon meet the same fate. It is though, perfectly obvious that a population that lives longer and healthier than previous generations is going to have to work longer, the paper said.

Despite a peace deal being reached one week ago to end 14 years of war in Liberia, people in that West African country have little to cheer about amid reports of fresh fighting and a massacre in the countryside in which up to 1,000 have died. The Ostsee Zeitung, published in Rostock, said while the cameras remain focused on child soldiers, the real catastrophe goes unnoticed. Tens of thousands of civilians have been forced to flee their homes. They are hungry, they have nowhere to go, have no food, no resources and no prospects. Surely if the call for UN intervention is justified anywhere, then it must be justified here. While some 150,000 American, British and other troops are trying to bring peace to Iraq, events in Liberia have hardly caused a ripple of public interest.

The Financial Times Deutschland said the American president desperately needs a foreign policy success story. Four months after the end of the war, the situation in Iraq is not under control. For that reason - if not for any other - George Bush's popularity has declined sharply. But now his advisors in the White House have dusted off and re-invented an old idea - the reconstruction of Afghanistan should serve as a model for Iraq.