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It's Not About The Refugees, It's About All Of Society

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 3/03/2016 Sigmar Gabriel
GERMANY REFUGEE CRISIS © Anadolu Agency via Getty Images GERMANY REFUGEE CRISIS

The integration of refugees is a mighty challenge for the coming years. From the pleasant slogan "We can do it" we must change to "We will do this." We have to create the preconditions now so that we can complete the task.
For us Social Democrats, one thing has always been clear: It's about society as a whole. We've been saying this for months. Instead of building "refugee housing," let society provide affordable housing for anyone who needs it. Instead of "refugee day care" let's provide child care and kindergardens for anyone who needs them.
And, above all: we must provide assistance to the cities and communities, since they're shouldering the actual task of integration. No city should have to restrict services to its citizens in order to finance the work of integration.
In the process, we Social Democrats have to make sure that nobody in our country gets the impression that their legitimate concerns or demands are not being heard anymore because the entire political debate is turning exclusively to the questions posed by the wave of refugee emigration.
There were problems before the refugee crisis
That kind of attitude can quickly lead to a belief that refugees are the ones responsible for the fact that other issues in Germany aren't being addressed. But that's untrue if only because these tasks were clear before the great emigration, too: rents are too high, in the big cities especially; tiny pensions that after 40 years of work are still smaller than welfare payments; or lacking assistance for single parents, who remain unemployed because they can't find daytime child care.
Greens, Liberals, and Christian Democrats ignore these issues because they aren't paying attention to the people, and the country's social questions are far less important to them.
We Social Democrats thus face a double task when it comes to integration: integrate those who come to us as refugees, but at the same time hold our own society together.
That's why we've been fighting for a while now for advances that will benefit all citizens in our society and provide a better and more secure life. We need a new project of solidarity for everyone -- even for those who have been in Germany for a long time.
It's about better chances on the labor market -- for everybody
It's about better educational opportunities for everyone. It's about better chances on the labor market for anyone who has been struggling unsuccessfully for a long time to get a toehold. It's about retirees who after a long life of work can't live off their pensions. It's about families that need good daycare and space to live in that they can also afford.
In the past two years, we in the Great Coalition have pushed through important proposals like minimum wage, retirement at 63, and income assistance for mothers. But in the coalition agreement we undertook even more than that, which we now need to follow up on.
In addition to proposed bills to regulate contingent labor and labor contracts, formulated with the cooperation of both employers and labor unions, which is currently being blocked by the CSU (Bavarian sister party to the German Christian Democratic Party), we're also invested in support for basic living costs, pension equalization between the East and the West, and a federal disability law
Paying rent should also pay off
With the federal disability law, we want to support people with disabilities in living a self-determined and self-caring life. Nobody should feel need anymore because of a disability.
Governmental support for living costs would make the experience of employment and of paying into social support funds seem more advantageous and, in older age, provide a pension above the subsistence line.
Such a reassessment of preconditions for a pension would primarily help people with a low income and those who have spent time caring for children and dependents. More than 25 years after reunification, we can't accept differences in pension entitlements anymore. The road map to complete pension equalization must therefore be written into law in the current election cycle and put into effect by 2020.
These are all things we've committed to and want to put into practice. But now is also the time to think further in a serious way. Because two different developments are intersecting today: budget deficits on the one hand and, on the other, the need to hold society together. A responsible politics must set proper priorities at times like these.
Therefore, in the current battle over the budget we are fighting for:

  • A total of a billion additional euros for language-instruction day care, primary school social work, and better afternoon care.
  • A renewed initiative against long-term unemployment for everyone in Germany and the creation of more of the work opportunities that are being demanded by all, not only by refugees.
  • The expansion of the social housing program, beyond the increase in the past year, with further resources from the federal government and an increase of resources for city development programs (the "social city" initiative), as well as economic stimulus for the building of new affordable housing.

Yes, all that costs money. But if we don't invest in our social integrity now, it will eventually cost us more than just money. The potential cost if the extreme right-wing populism rips our society apart is anybody's guess.
In light of budget deficits to the tune of billions, nobody should be able to say that there's no money for a solidarity effort that would be to everybody's advantage. Budgetary austerity remains important, but existing reserves should be fully exploited. Now is the time to invest in the integrity of our society. That is the most responsible politics for the future of our country.
This post first appeared on HuffPost Germany. It has been translated into English and edited for clarity.

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