FDP politicians are calling for pensions to be restricted at the age of 63. For SPD Bundestag member Johannes Arlt, the demand is a breach of the deal in the social contract and a hidden reduction in pensions. Give me a moment to hear both opinions.

In Düsseldorf, I always buy flowers and sushi from two people who are long past retirement age. The flower seller I trust at the market is well over 70 years old.

That doesn’t stop them from selling their lilies, roses and tulips whatever the weather. And with such devotion that I get offended when my husband buys flowers for me at another stall.

Akio Ando, ​​founder of the sushi chain Maruyasu, made his way to Germany in the 1960s and initially worked in mining. He did hard physical labor before dedicating himself to the fledgling Japanese gastronomy.

He then founded his sushi chain in 1983. He has long since completed his 45 years of employment. But Ando doesn’t miss the opportunity to personally stand behind the counter today. And to advise his customers with friendly determination.

For me he is ageless in the best sense of the word. Of course he is self-employed and therefore has no retirement age, but why shouldn’t his work ethic and passion also apply to employees?

When I now think of the current demand from some FDP politicians to make the retirement age more flexible, I think of people like Akio Ando, ​​for whom their work still brings joy even when they are well over 65 years old. So why not work longer?

FDP General Secretary Bijan Djir-Sarai is right, in my opinion, to insist on a “fair and objective” debate in the traffic light government’s pension dispute. FDP politicians such as Bundestag member Max Mordhorst are thinking out loud in the “Bild am Sonntag” (BamS) about only granting retirement at 63 to low earners.

In the medium term it must be completely abolished. “We shouldn’t afford such demographically absurd election gifts,” said Mordhorst in the “BamS”. I think that’s right.

Our Chancellor, SPD politician Olaf Scholz, doesn’t think anything of it. He rejects the proposal as “absurd”. On Labor Day, May 1, he said: “For me it is a matter of decency not to deny those who have worked for a long time the retirement they deserve.”

I’ve been asking myself for a long time: Why does the Social Democratic Party of Germany see work as something so fundamentally terrible? Wouldn’t it make more sense to enable everyone to work long hours? Would it be better to concentrate on innovative concepts for the later part of life rather than rigidly sticking to the retirement age?

I have the feeling that the retirement age is something of a sacred cow for the SPD. Something ideological that cannot be shaken. No matter how much our human lifespan increases or how our country’s budget is structured.

I pick up the phone and call the SPD member of the Bundestag, Johannes Arlt. I want to understand why the SPD reacts so rigidly and resolutely to the demands of the FDP politicians. Even the Green party leader Ricarda Lang is currently open in “Spiegel”: “By retiring at 63, we are losing far too many employees with good expertise.”

Johannes and I have debated with each other many times in the past. I respect Johannes’ always open, cross-party perspective. What I also appreciate about him:

He was directly elected as a member of parliament by the citizens in his constituency in 2021 with 31.3 percent of the vote. That’s not surprising. As the saying goes, he is close to the citizens. Every conversation with him is peppered with the realities of life of the people in his constituency.

Johannes is more Mecklenburg Lake District than Berlin Bubble. That’s also why I want to debate with him. Would the citizens in his constituency really find a flexible retirement age so disastrous?

Brockhaus: “Good evening Johannes, where can I reach you?”

Arlt: “For once, babysitting on my sofa in the Berlin living room.”

Brockhaus: “That’s a good thing. There is something we urgently need to talk about: the flexible retirement age that the FDP is calling for. SPD Chancellor Olaf Scholz describes the FDP initiative as absurd. Why are you as a party so vehemently against it?”

Arlt: “Well, we already have a retirement age that varies and is quite flexible. We have a pension at 63, i.e. for long-term insured people, which doesn’t exist very often anymore. Actually it is currently a pension at 64 years and four months. People who have paid in for 45 years receive this pension. Who started their job early. Not like the two of us who studied, Nena. These are people who worked in the steelworks or in the hospital and at some point they simply can’t do it anymore. Everyone must be able to rely on their pension. We can’t simply say: Now it’s not 45, but 49 years of contributions. The FDP must realize that not everyone can still work at 70. A lot of roofers probably can’t do that.”

Nena Brockhaus, born in 1992, is a business journalist, television presenter, political commentator and four-time Spiegel best-selling author (Unfollow, Pretty Happy, I’m not green, Old Wise Men). After stints at Handelsblatt and BUNTE, she moderated the political talk show “Viertel nach Acht” for BILD from 2021 to 2023. With her column “Nena and the other opinion”, Brockhaus would like to contribute to a differentiated opinion in our society – sometimes through unpopular theses and the expansion of what can be said.

Brockhaus: “You’re talking about something that fundamentally bothers me about how your party deals with certain professional groups. Somehow you always feel sorry for workers. The saleswoman, the roofer, the craftsman, the one with the hard jobs. You want to work for them. A good goal in and of itself, but you always act like you have to protect her. There are people in our country who would rather be craftsmen than office clerks and for whom their work is not a bad thing. Not even after 45 years.”

Arlt: “Employees can continue to work, but they don’t have to. That’s what we stand for! Surely we can’t first promise stable pensions and then raise the retirement age? The difference between the professional groups lies in the point in time at which the contribution years start. Not in number. People who have studied start their working lives later and have worked fewer years at the age of 63 than someone who started with an apprenticeship, for example.”

Brockhaus: “Olaf Scholz said on Labor Day, May 1st: ‘For me it is a question of decency not to deny those who have worked for a long time the retirement they deserve.’ As an SPD member of the Bundestag, do you also see work as something so fundamentally terrible?”

Arlt: “I have always enjoyed working and working a lot. And that’s what most people in our country do – they are hardworking and work-oriented. Maybe we should think about how working conditions can be made so attractive that people decide on their own that they would like to stay in the job for another year or two. Then their pension also increases. But not everyone can or wants to do that – and that’s okay too.”

Brockhaus: “In Germany we are not Scrooge McDuck and bathe in money. The question in the room is: Can we still afford the pensions – the way the system currently stands?”

Arlt: “Why do you want to start saving with those who can’t defend themselves? If you want to make people work longer, it’s nothing more than a hidden pension cut. Then it has to be named that way. Of course, we have to ask ourselves how we can fill the unfilled skilled workers positions. It is in our interest that people enjoy working for as long as possible. We should encourage that. But we shouldn’t force people who have reached 45 years to work longer.”

Brockhaus: “The FDP member of the Bundestag Max Mordhorst told the ‘BamS’: ‘We shouldn’t afford such demographically absurd election gifts.’ What would you say to him?”

Arlt: “Max Mordhorst presents it as if the pension was a handout from the state. Citizens have been paying into their pensions for years. The pension is insurance and not charity. The pension is not citizens’ money. Max Mordhorst is wrong.”

Brockhaus: “What would be your solution?”

Arlt: “In some neighboring Nordic countries there is retraining for people who have done hard physical work. They can learn a new profession or retrain in the middle of their working life at state expense and with almost full salary. That would be sustainable. What I think is good is the FDP’s proposal with the stock pension. It would be great if we had an even higher pension. I think the step of going to the capital markets is right and I also support the FDP proposal.”

Brockhaus: “Last question: Your party, the SPD, says that social security in Germany is non-negotiable. What does Social Security have to do with raising the retirement age?”

Arlt: “I’ll say it again: raising the retirement age means a reduction in pensions. A breach of the deal in the partnership agreement. We should rather make working hours so attractive that people voluntarily want to stay at work.”

We hang up. What a valuable pro and con debate. Most good discussions take place in respectful gray areas. Topics are rarely black and white. We agree that the topic of pensions is very multifaceted and goes far beyond the topic of retirement age.

Nevertheless, allow me to ask: Retire later, or leave everything as it is? Are you Team Brockhaus or Team Arlt?

If you would like to share your own opinion with me in the comments section, I would be happy to hear it. Rest assured, I always read all your comments. Each. Every week. With this in mind: If you like, we’ll read each other again next Saturday.

Yours, Nena Brockhaus

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