If politicians want to be re-elected, they must first take into account the interests of today’s generations. This provides a false incentive, namely for a policy of “glorifying the present and neglecting the future” (Richard von Weizsäcker). The individuals who are born in the future cannot participate in the procurement of today’s majorities. They do not appear in the considerations of the politician who organizes his or her re-election. One cannot blame the individual politician for this, because the framework conditions themselves dictate it to him or her.
Legislative periods cannot be too long without pushing back the influence of the electorate too far and thus endangering the very essence of democracy. However, technological progress ensures that the effects of current actions extend far into the future and can have a profoundly negative impact on the quality of life of many future generations.
If future generations could assert their interests in the political decision-making process, then the majorities for important political decisions would be different. Take energy policy, for example: today’s form of energy production with a focus on fossil fuels currently enables a uniquely high standard of living, but accepts serious disadvantages in the medium run. Take financial policy, for example: Financing today’s consumption through debt shifts burdens into the future and reduces the freedom of future generations of politicians to shape their own policies.
Institutions for Future Generations
In order to reduce democratic presentism and to strengthen future-oriented policies, justice for the future must be anchored in the entire policy process. The institutions for future justice that we have in Germany are not sufficient for this. Whether the German Council for Sustainable Development, the Parliamentary Advisory Council on Sustainable Development, the Sustainability Impact Assessment or the German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU) — they are not up to the task.
In other countries such as Israel, Wales and Hungary, but also in scholarly literature, we find examples of how it could be done better. Some of these no longer exist and they all have their strengths and weaknesses. We examined them in order to develop our own proposals for Germany: The seven building blocks for a more future-oriented democracy by the Foundation for the Rights of Future Generations.
Intergenerational Justice in Constitutions
The German constitution has so far provided little assistance, since our legal system currently protects above all the rights of current individuals (legal entities). For these reasons, an ecologically sustainable and generationally compatible society can only be achieved if the ecological demands of future generations are institutionally anchored. Therefore it is necessary to create a representation of future generations by changing the constitution or the functioning of parliament. Similar initiatives have already been implemented in Israel, Switzerland and Hungary, for example, or are included in the parliamentary decision-making process.
An important step towards making our democracy more intergenerationally just is the demand for the right to vote for all citizens, including older children and young people.
The FRFG has lobbied in 2006–2009 for the inclusion of intergenerational justice in the German constitution. You find a comprehensive chronology of the campaign here.