9.7 Current debates and reforms
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There are almost 20 million children, adolescents and young adults in Germany. They account for a good quarter of the total population.
They are growing up in a world that is facing multiple crises. Climate change, the war against Ukraine, economic hardship and the COVID pandemic are impacting their everyday lives and presenting them with challenges previous generations did not experience.
The younger generation is consequently much more sceptical about the future than young generations in the past. According to the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs (Bundesfamilienministerium), the proportion of young people who are optimistic about the next twelve months has declined from around 70% to 30% since 2018. Studies have shown that risks to the mental health of young people are increasing. In 2023, the federal government published the inter-ministerial working group’s final report on the health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on children and adolescents (‘Gesundheitliche Auswirkungen auf Kinder und Jugendliche durch Corona’, PDF 437 KB). The fifth population-based longitudinal COPSY Study (Corona und Psyche, COPSY) conducted by the Universitätsklinikum Hamburg-Eppendorf states that psychological stress is due to the increasing global challenges. Young people also complained that too little attention is paid to their opinions and needs.
The federal government now wants to focus all the more intensely on the needs of young people. One first step was the post-Covid catch-up programme ‘Aufholen nach Corona für Kinder und Jugendliche‘, which provided two billion euros in funding for 2021 and 2022 to help children and young people catch up with schooling, social activities and voluntary engagement.
In 2022, the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (Bundesministerium für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend, BMFSFJ) called for an alliance for the young generation (Bündnis für die junge Generation). With support from the areas of media, culture, science and politics, the alliance will focus more on the concerns of young people
The aim of the European Year of Youth 2022 was to make young people and their perspectives the focus of public attention and to draw decision-makers’ attention to their needs. Key issues were
- the effects of multiple crises on young people
- how to bring Europe closer to young people
- the empowerment of young people
- promoting diversity.
Regarding international youth work and young people's commitment to global issues, the Federal Statistical Office (Statistisches Bundesamt) analysed data from the second COVID year of 2021 and examined the impact of the pandemic on (international) youth work).
- In 2021, roughly 4.4 million children, adolescents and young adults in Germany participated in publicly funded youth work programmes. This was about half as many young people (-49%) as in the last comparative year before the pandemic in 2019.
- In 2021, 246,000 fewer volunteers (-44%) were active in youth work.
- The number of international youth work offers fell by two thirds (-67%) and the number of participants fell by three quarters (-74%) versus before the crisis.
Policy-makers in Germany acknowledge the importance of European and international youth work across party lines. In the coalition agreement (Koalitionsvertrag 2021–2025, PDF 2.1 MB) between the Social Democratic Party of Germany (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschland, SPD), Alliance 90/The Greens (Bündnis 90 / Die Grünen) and the Free Democrats (Freie Demokraten, FDP), the current government (2021-2025) declares: ‘We will strengthen European and international youth work, especially for trainees. We will continue the work of youth organisations that are currently being established. We will continue to strengthen the International Voluntary Service (Internationaler Freiwilligendienst) and further develop the voluntary social year ‘FSJ digital’. Elsewhere in the coalition agreement, commitments are made to bilateral and multilateral exchanges as well as to national and European funding instruments.
Information on developments in the area of international youth exchanges can also be found in the Youth Wiki Chapter on Youth Policy Governance.
Education for sustainable development continues to be a key issue and is promoted accordingly. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung, BMBF) and the German Commission for UNESCO (Deutsche UNESCO-Kommission, DUK) recognises stakeholders who advocate and implement education for sustainable development in an outstanding way with the national education for sustainable development award (Nationaler Preis – Bildung für nachhaltige Entwicklung). A top-level jury with expertise in education for sustainable development selects three actors in the ‘places of learning’, ‘multipliers’ and ‘educational landscapes’ categories and also awards a newcomer prize. It awards altogether ten prizes worth a total of 100,000 euros. The prize will be awarded every two years from 2023.
Current debates on global issues in the field of youth policy relate primarily to the impact of the climate crisis, the war in Ukraine, the integration of young refugees, dealing with the radicalisation of young people, extremism and racism.
Fridays for Future
The debate about climate protection is more present than ever before. Children and young people are increasingly concerned about the changing climate in Germany and worldwide. Following the containment of the pandemic, the Fridays For Future movement has regained momentum. The climate strike movement is global, independent and organised in a decentralised way. It calls for policies that actively tackle the climate crisis. The last global climate strike took place in September 2023.
‘The last generation’
The Last Generation (Die letzte Generation) is a more radical alliance of climate activists in Germany, Austria and Italy. Since 2021, the alliance has been pursuing the goal of forcing governments to take action against climate change through acts of civil disobedience. The name ‘last generation’ was chosen because the activists see themselves as the last generation that could still prevent an impending climate disaster.
The group of activists regularly attract attention, for example, when they glue themselves to roads as part of their campaigns of protest. By disrupting traffic, they want to draw attention to climate policy issues. These and other forms of protest, including spray-painting the Ministry of Transport (Verkehrsministerium), have met with widespread public criticism.
Compulsory social service
The German Federal President Steinmeier's proposal to introduce a compulsory social service for young people has sparked widespread debate. The programme would require young people to complete a one-year period of community service in social institutions to strengthen social cohesion. The idea is controversial.