From Lisbon to Helsinki, people are both hopeful and fearful when it comes to the future of the welfare state. Above all, they are worried about pensions and elder care. A majority is counting on the EU to preserve social welfare standards and would even like Brussels to take a more active role.
In Germany, people are concerned about the benefits the country's social welfare system will be able to provide and about the system's long-term sustainability – in particular with regard to pensions and care for the elderly. Just over half would rather see an increase in taxes and contributions to social insurance programs instead of a reduction in social protection in order to ensure the welfare state continues to function as it should. Germans would also like the EU to provide more support for socio-political reforms and ensure financial solidarity among member states. Those are some of the findings from a representative survey carried out in eight EU member states by the Bertelsmann Stiftung.
As the survey shows, in terms of their expectations and fears Germans are similar to their European neighbors. In all eight states, a majority is pessimistic about what the welfare state will be like in 2050. Most respondents in all countries are concerned about pensions and elder care. For example, 70 percent of Germans are afraid that the country's social welfare system will not be able to guarantee pension payments in 2050. In addition, 63 percent believe that there will not be sufficient elder care, and half are concerned about the health-care system. One-third believes that resources will be lacking in 2050 in the areas of child care and education and training for young people.
Maintaining the welfare state – but at what price?
People in Germany are more or less divided when it comes to achieving the right balance between paying for and providing benefits. Just over half would be willing to accept higher taxes and increased contributions to social insurance programs in order to maintain current levels of social protection. In Finland and the UK, an even greater share of the population supports paying more in order to prevent social welfare benefits from declining. Conversely, a majority of respondents in France, Poland, Italy, Belgium and Portugal prefer a reduction in benefits over an increase in contributions.
The EU as guarantor of the welfare state
Europeans are pinning their hopes on the EU to ensure social-protection standards. In all countries included in the survey, a majority of respondents – between 63 and 86 percent – say they would like the EU to set binding minimum standards for all member states when it comes to social protection. In Germany, just over three-quarters say they would favor such a development. In addition, between 52 and 78 percent of the Europeans surveyed feel Brussels should exert pressure on individual member states to ensure they implement the needed social reforms. A significant majority also wants the EU to guarantee financial transfers from richer to poorer member states. Even in the EU's better-off net contributor states, a majority of respondents say this should be the case. In Germany, the EU's largest net contributor, 62 percent endorse this idea.
One of the survey's most notable findings is the consensus that exists throughout Europe on these issues. Also surprising is the high degree of support among the often "Eurosceptic" British for the EU taking a more active role in ensuring social policy.
According to Aart De Geus, chairman and CEO of the Bertelsmann Stiftung, the survey's findings show that, given the effects of demographic change, people in the EU are most concerned about the social protections that will be available as they age. "They also want the EU to act as a strong partner in ensuring social security and solidarity. This is not about the EU replacing national social welfare policies, but acting instead to ensure the sustainability of social welfare systems. It is also about ensuring the necessary reforms are implemented, thereby preventing a race to the bottom among member states," De Geus said.