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100 Members of the Bundestag ... PDF Print E-mail

Chronology of the motion 'Generational Justice in the Constitution'

A debt limit for the constitution?
(January 2009) In the last six years the FRFG has been engaged in implementing generational justice in the German constitution – together with forward-looking deputies of the Bundestag from all parties. In July 2006 a multi-partisan motion to strengthen the rights of future generations was authored by over 100 deputies. The draft bill was discussed in the scope of a public hearing of the advisory committee for sustainable development of the German parliament in October 2008. One of the aims of the draft was to limit the possibilities of taking on debts in the future.In the last years, until recently, our state had started a process of consolidation considering the public finances. The yearly figures of new indebtedness were reduced. The chances to present a balanced budget for the first time in a generation in 2011 were not bad. Then the financial and economical crisis hit, and a new competition seems to have broken out: who can make the most expensive campaign pledges?Such a paradigm shift has not been seen often in such a short time. This year the new indebtedness in comparison to 2008 will rise by at least 300 %. "The dimension of this borrowing-orgy is hardly comprehensible“, says Mr. Däke, the President of the German Association of the Tax Payers (BdS). The BdS adapted their debt clock in Berlin to the new figures this week: no matter how you calculate the costs, the debts will now rise by a four digit number each second instead of a three digit number. This borrowing-orgy due to new economic recovery plans will strain the future generations extremely. There is a ray of hope though: The Grand Coalition announced in early January that it is planning to implement a debt limit in the constitution. On the one hand the economic recovery plan will still create debts up to 50 billion Euros, on the other hand it will only be passed with a settlement of how the debts will be paid back and together with the planned debt limit. A limit of 0,5 % of the GDP for new debts is being discussed. Furthermore taking on debts will only be possible if the majority of the German Bundestag approves it. The debt limit will take effect in 2015 according to news sources. This exiting new development should be connected with the initiative for generational justice in the constitution. The FRFG has thus contacted all deputies, demanding for them to commit themselves to the implementation of an effective "debt limit" in all ways possible. We hope that the 104 delegates who supported the motion “Intergenerational Justice in the constitution” in the past will accept the pending economic recovery plan only if it comes together with an effective “debt limit”.

One positive answer reached us for example form Ingrid Arndt-Brauer, SPD, who wrote:

’Dear Dr. Tremmel,
Thank you very much for your letter. I agree that we should take advantage of the opportunity to implement the debt limit. As deputy chairwoman of the Commission on Federalism II and member of the Committee for Sustainable Development I have always supported a debt limit. I will also do so in future.
With best regards,
Ingrid Arndt-Brauer, MdB’


Meanwhile the Bund and the Länder have agreed on the details of the debt limit. In the Commission on Federalism they agreed that from 2020 onwards the Länder will not be allowed to make debts in economically stable times. The Bund has to get along with a maximum new indebtedness of 0,35 % of the GDP a year from 2016 onwards. Currently this would be a sum of 9 Billion euros and thus a small part of the yearly new indebtedness of the past.

Public hearing concerning the constitutional amendment - Jörg Tremmel invited as expert

The campaign to institutionalise intergenerational justice, one of the main projects of the FRFG, keeps on moving. After the first reading in the “Bundestag” in October 2007 the draft was transmitted to the parliamentary committees. While the judicial panel, which was originally in charge of the discussion about the amendment, criticized the bill, the committee  for sustainable development has now taken over command and organises a public hearing on 15 October 2008, 5 p.m. Dr. Günther Krings, chair of the committee, emphasizes that the topic of “intergenerational justice” and its institutionalisation in particular is in the main focus of the committee’s work in this legislative period.

Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Kahl, M.A., Dr. Sebastian Knell, Prof. Dr. Bernd Raffelhüschen, Dr. Michael Thöne, Dr. Norbert Reuter, Prof. Dr. Christian Calliess and Dr. Dr. Jörg Tremmel are invited as experts. The hearing primarily deals with the question if the protection of future generations is already implemented in the constitution and if intergenerational justice can effectively be accomplished by the constitutional draft. One has to clarify which economic, ecological and social problems will follow the constitutional amendment and if there are alternatives which van solve the problem of the short-term nature of democracy. Therefore, practical examples from other countries will be discussed in a comparative perspective.

After the hearing a written report with a recommendation for a decision will be submitted for the second reading in the “Bundestag”.

First reading of the bill for intergenerational justice to be laid down in the German constitution

The first reading of the bill to instate generational justice in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany took place at the 11th of October in 2007 in the German Bundestag. During a lively debate, representatives of the SPD, CDU/CSU, the Green party and the FDP supported the initiative although some CDU and SPD representatives warned against overloading the constitution. In contrast, representatives of the Left party rejected the motion. Members of the FRFG attended the public reading in order to support those members of parliament with whom they had jointly developed this motion.A short summary of the debate follows, wherein the order of the presented parties represents their chronological order of speaking during the debate.

(Faction of the SPD) Peter Friedrich opened the debate for the SPD-faction by pointing out that the discussion of generational justice and sustainability had continously reemerged during plenary debates for some time. In the course of this, he quoted the principle that stands as the foundation for this debate: "The state has to bear in mind the principle of sustainability in its actions, and has to protect the interests of future generations." In addition to this, he pointed out that the topic of sustainability had already been laid down in article 20 of the German Constitution but so far only applying to the sectors of environment and ecology. The aim should now be the implementation of the basis for sustainability in certain parts of life. Even though the initiators of this motion basically agree on the necessity to commit to sustainability, they do not agree on the means and instruments to achieve this goal. One of the main areas in which sustainability should play a more important role was the pension system, where already first steps had been taken by introducing a higher rate of contributions to the retirement funds. In contast, to apply the element of capital coverage to all types of social security systems would not be the right concept especially in the case of risk-based insurances. Instead, prevention according to the principle of "act at times in order to avoid getting in trouble" should become the way of conduct. This would especially apply to the areas of taxes and national debt. This was said with special reference of the systems of property and inheritance taxes.  

(Faction of the FDP) Daniel Bahr (FDP) emphazised the necessity for politicians to restrict the burden that would be handed down to future generations, and to keep generational justice in mind when making decisions. This would mean that a generation should only use and spend as much as would not cut into the exercise of freedom for future generations. This would apply not only to natural ressources but also to financial ressources, which do already restrict governmental actions by its high level of national debt. During the time of this debate alone, the national debt had already risen by 1,455,300 Euros.

(Faction of the CDU/CSU) The first speaker for the CDU/CSU, Jens Spahn, emphazised in the beginning that this motion was initiated by members of parliament of the ages between 24 up to 64 years. Therefore a shared goal, separated in two parts, should be tried to be accomplished. In the first part the focus would be put on generational sustainability as an aim of the state und thereby as an aim of the state's institutions in considering the ressources and the flexibiliy of future generations within the context of the actions of today's generation. Although different points of view existed as to how to achieve these means, by implementing this initiative a requirement for a policy that seeks generational equality would be created. Along with a macro-economic balance, the interests of future generations should also be taken into consideration.

(Faction of the Left Party) As a representative of the Left party, Sevim Dagdelem emphazised in her speech the point that it was not the older generation but the profit-orientated market system that would be the cause of deplorable state of social affairs in germany. In her point of view the problem originated neither in the conflict between old and young nor in the conflict of workers and the unemployed, but rather between workers with appropriate incomes and those who enrich themselves on the back of others. Due to this the initiative would be misleading and missing the actual problem.

(Faction of the Green Party) Anna Luehrmann spoke as the representative of the Green-Party in this debate. First of all she tried to show this initiative's difference to all other initiatives usually coming to the floor. The difference lay in the fact that this time the interests of future, yet unborn citizens were to be protected, not only those of the current generation. Besides the unfair treatment of those future generations by the increasing climate change and its consequences she also mentioned the national debt and the social security systems as examples for the indifference towards future generations' rights. Referring to this, she warned against a backwards-orientation of the state which had already become visible in the educational sectors under whom today's younger generation was suffering.


100 members of the Bundestag...

On 10th November 2006, one hundred members of the Bundestag (German parliament) tabled a proposition for a new law, demanding intergenerational justice in the German constitution. This is of course an action the representatives themselves deserve credit for, but without the work of the Foundation for the Rights of Future Generations (FRFG) it would not have happened. For three years – since autumn 2003 – FRFG has fought for this cause within and outside of parliament. FRFG collected thousands of signatures, arranged 14 workshops with MPs and did all kinds of lobbying to overcome the first obstacles. 27 representatives of the Christian Democratic Union, 27 of the Social Democratic Party of Germany, 25 representatives of Alliance ‘90/The Greens and 21 representatives of Free Democratic Party supported this proposition (Drucksache 16/3399). The introduction of a new article 20b would oblige the government to safeguard the interests of future generations. The text reads as follows: “The government has to respect the principle of sustainability and to safeguard the interests of future generations” A further component orientated towards justice for future generations would be inserted into article 109, creating a basic financial law restricting national debt.

Please take into account that no law passes the parliamentary consultation / debate as it is introduced. The first reading is anticipated to take place within the next two months and then the draft will probably be assigned to the judiciary committee. After a hearing in the judiciary committee, the draft will be assigned to a second and third reading, and then subjected to a final vote. This should take place by the end of 2007.

In the opinion of the FRFG, the second part of the proposal (the reform of the basic financial law through the article 109) is too weak. The FRFG believes that the exception clause for an upper limit of national debt in article 115 needs to be disposed of. There are even some ministers with more resolute propositions than the young representatives / members of parliament. The Federal Minister of Economics Mr. Glos (Christian Social Union of Bavaria) claims that the federation and the federal states integrate a new indebtedness of three percent into the constitution and they should strive for a balanced budget. (SPIEGEL 46/2006, p. 102) The Minister of Finance Steinbrück (SPD) wants to permit net lending only in the case of economic reasons to guarantee a balanced budget in the long run. On the one hand these propositions are meaningless as long as a politician only wants media attention, not acting on his words. But on the other hand an atmosphere is created which makes it more likely that the parliamentary debate will favour a reform of the financial basic law which would make living at the expense of future generations more difficult.

You will find the FRFG’s arguments supporting changes in the constitution to create intergenerational justice in the study (1/2006). We have also published a book ‘Handbook of Intergenerational Justice’ in English, which places the initiative of the young members of the German parliament into an international context. In the book, various authors from France, Israel, Hungary and Malta explain how their countries implemented intergenerational justice into the constitution. The book has been well received and already received a lot of positive feedback.