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Germany

Help Yourself Before the State Does

How will Germans live in 2020? More self-sufficiently as they learn to wean themselves off the generous social welfare system, according to researchers looking into the future.

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Few will be able to sit back and relax in the future.

First the good news: Germans, especially the younger generation, are increasingly fending for themselves and realizing the need to perform and excel instead of depending on dwindling state hand-outs and perks.

They will account for around 40 percent of the population by 2010 and almost 50 by 2020.

On the flip side, Germans will become increasingly plagued by worries of an insecure future in the face of rising unemployment and shrinking social benefits.

That was the general conclusion of a study titled "Germany 2020. How We'll Live Tomorrow" presented in Berlin this week by well-known German future trends researcher Horst W. Opaschowski and his colleagues at the B.A.T. Leisure Research Institute in Hamburg.

"The days of plenty, of ease and luxurious living are over, " said Opaschowski.

No more state hand-outs

The results are not likely to come as a surprise for the majority of Germans.

For some years now, the country's generous welfare system, the envy of many western countries, is slowly beginning to lose its luster. With an ageing population, declining birth rate, sluggish economy and rising unemployment, the once robust social system is crumbling.

Recent reforms initiated by Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's Social Democrats and the junior coalition partner the Greens -- largely unpopular measures designed to reduce non-wage related costs and streamline the country's benefits system -- have meant a slash in unemployment benefits, additional health care costs and a reduction in pensions.

Continuing high unemployment

But the latest study is still expected to provide some important pointers on how disengagement from a state-backed social security system is likely to affect Germans in the coming years.

Opaschowski is certain Germans will fret the most about unemployment in the next 10 to 20 years. The country currently has an jobless rate of about 10.3 percent.

Senioren

The future is uncertain for a majority of Germans.

The study, which is based on scientific research as well as a survey of 2,000 Germans above the age of 14, shows that among those questioned, 63 percent are concerned about affording health care, 59 percent worry about criminality and 57 about pensions.

The future trend researchers give poor marks to Germany's political parties, who they say haven't managed to present the citizens with a concrete plan for the future. All the policy programs until now have been just mere patchwork, according to the experts.

"The future doesn't have to be the big vision for the next 30 years. Rather the citizens actually want a step-by-step plan: we're here in 2004 and this is happening, but in 2006 this is how it will be," Opaschowski said. "But this kind of planning isn't happening in politics. We hear everyday of what's working, but we want to hear where it's going."

Self-help and individual performance

Despite the gloomy news, Opaschowski is quick to point out that there's light at the end of the tunnel and stresses that Germans are realizing they can't wait for the state to spoon-feed them anymore.

"They (the Germans) have the impression that those at the top decision-making levels aren't managing alone. They're realizing they must take matters into their own hands and that the future will in no way be better than the present," Opaschowski said.

According to the researchers the sobering realization is spurring Germans to focus more on better performance and qualifications as well as fundamentally changing their perception of the state as the highest authority.

"Networks and citizens' initiatives are gaining new significance. The people want to achieve more things on their own and lead a more active life," according to the study. "Help yourself before the state does, " is Opaschowski's verdict.

"Beacon of hope"

The researchers are clear that the trend to help oneself is particularly conspicuous among younger Germans. According to the study, a new generation that increasingly defines itself through performance is on the rise. Even Germany's deputy research minister Wolf-Michael Catenhausen says, "the younger generation is the beacon of hope in the 21st century."

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