Security in Times of Change

An intro­duc­tion to our report and a summary of our results.

Why “Security in Times of Change”?

We are living in a time of funda­mental changes, which are unfolding rapidly and simul­ta­ne­ously. These are trans­forming our societies radically and pose new chal­lenges for policy makers. Past expe­ri­ence can only play a small part in solving them. They include

  • glob­al­i­sa­tion
  • the digital revolution
  • global migration
  • demo­graphic change
  • radical changes in gender and family relations
  • climate change as a symptom of ecolog­ical crisis.

Each of these phenomena alone consti­tutes a great challenge in itself. They are mutually rein­forcing, as is the case for climate change and migration or digital revo­lu­tion and glob­al­i­sa­tion. Taken on intel­li­gently, these chal­lenges offer oppor­tu­ni­ties for a better future while at the same time harbouring the potential for signif­i­cant social and political turbulence.

Constant change is a char­ac­ter­istic of the modern age. Working and living envi­ron­ments are in a perpetual state of flux, tradi­tional alle­giances and certain­ties are dissolving, the new is ousting the old. This dynamic has increased further with the end of the bipolar world and the onset of a new phase of glob­al­i­sa­tion. The last 30 years have been a period of accel­er­ated discon­ti­nuity. This holds true for economics, tech­nology and culture as much as for the indi­vidual. An increasing desire for security, consis­tency and belonging echoes this process. There is evidently a need for a certain “security corridor” to be able to risk change. Only those who feel reason­ably secure will regard glob­al­i­sa­tion or the digital revo­lu­tion as an oppor­tu­nity rather than a threat.

Security is not an end in itself for the commis­sion. A funda­mental level of security is a prereq­ui­site for anyone to fulfil their potential. “Freedom from fear” is the mother of all freedoms. Therefore the question for the commis­sion was: what kind of reas­sur­ances does our pluralist society need to face technical, social and cultural change with self-confi­dence instead of fear?

Shaping the Change

Germany in 2019 is one of the most successful national economies. It is the most open society this country has ever known and is expe­ri­encing the longest period of peacetime in its history as a member of the European Union. Never­the­less, there is a notice­able and increasing sense of inse­cu­rity, extending to the middle classes. Although a large majority is satisfied with their personal life, many look ahead to the future with pessimism. Confi­dence in the state’s and the political system’s planning capac­i­ties has begun to falter. Many feel powerless in the face of rapid changes. These are perceived as events going over the heads of indi­vid­uals, events which can no longer be managed by policy makers

Growing inse­cu­rity and a loss of trust in the liberal order prepare the ground for the global advance­ment of author­i­tarian and nation­alist currents. Support for iden­ti­tarian movements of national or religious prove­nance is rising. They promise security by retreating into the national circle of wagons, by shielding from inter­na­tional compe­ti­tion and the influx of strangers.

The key question is what answers liberal democracy can find to the chal­lenges of change and the resulting inse­cu­rity. We cannot shield ourselves from the great changes of our time but rather have to take them on as a restruc­turing task.

The guiding principle for demo­c­ratic politics should not be security by isolation but rather security in times of change. This involves much more than simply adjusting to perceived factual constraints. We have to shape trans­for­ma­tion processes proac­tively and strengthen trust in demo­c­ratic politics’ ability to govern.

This includes an expansion of early warning systems for crises (moni­toring) and critical eval­u­a­tion of govern­ment programmes and agencies. Espe­cially in the face of complex changes in economy and society, the require­ment is for a “learning state” that contin­u­ally assesses its activ­i­ties in order to refine or adjust them.

The objective must be an increased social and demo­c­ratic resilience in our society – that is, more resilience in the face of shock-like changes as well as improve­ments to the capacity to find creative solutions to new chal­lenges. The course that is set today will to a large part determine which future we end up with. This holds equally true for the digital revo­lu­tion as for demo­graphic change or the climate change crisis.

Shaping the change means managing change polit­i­cally and enabling people to keep pace with the changing world. This also includes an element of protec­tion. “A Europe that protects” is a central catch­phrase of Emmanuel Macron. Nobody shall be unpro­tected at the mercy of radical change in economy and society; everybody has the right to soli­darity and participation.

At the same time, it is paramount to coun­teract our societies’ division into winners and losers of tech­no­log­ical, cultural and ecolog­ical change. It under­mines liberal democracy’s promise of the same freedom for everyone. The conflu­ence of growing inse­cu­rity and increasing inequality creates an explosive conflict situation.  

Key Themes

The commis­sion covered the overall topic “security in times of change” along four key issues:

(1) Empow­er­ment of the indi­vidual for self-assured action: It is important to empower people to deal with tech­no­log­ical, social and cultural changes confi­dently. This is about “internal security” in the literal sense – a security arising from the inside. How do we orient our education system to strengthen everyone’s self-efficacy? Which knowledge and skills do we need in order to find our way in a rapidly changing world, to shape the digital revo­lu­tion and to act in coop­er­a­tion with others?

Clearly, education and further education are essential for success in a globally-linked, knowledge-based society. The education system is not yet well prepared for the new digital world and our society’s increasing socio-cultural heterogeneity.

The commis­sion submits a variety of proposals for this. Among them empir­i­cally-based, sustained educa­tional planning, more emphasis on early years’ education, the estab­lish­ment of minimum targets for students’ educa­tional success, improved moni­toring as well as improved funding for pre-schools and schools based on social indi­ca­tors. The right to “education for all” should include a higher education degree or a profes­sional qualification.

The further education sector continues to be the poor relation of education policy. This urgently needs to change. “Lifelong learning” is becoming the new norm in the face of funda­mental change in employ­ment. The right to education has to be extended to a right to further education and must be under­pinned finan­cially. The collec­tive wage agree­ments nego­ti­ated between the Metal Workers’ Union IG Metall Baden-Würt­tem­berg and Südwest­metall leads the way in this, proposing a combi­na­tion of gainful employ­ment and further education. The commission’s advice in this context is to substan­tiate the concept of an “educa­tional basic income” and to test its feasi­bility. Voca­tional colleges should be extended to become technical further education centres, and the tran­si­tion between voca­tional training and third-level courses eased.

(2) The future of social security: Are our current social security systems fit for the future or do we need extended social citizens’ rights and new concepts for social partic­i­pa­tion against the backdrop of the digital revo­lu­tion and the antic­i­pated changes in the employ­ment system? The answer to this question depends in a large part on our image of the future effects of the digital revo­lu­tion and demo­graphic change. Both consti­tute profound change. They harbour the potential to upset previous arrange­ments of work and social security. We are unable to foresee the future, a statement that is both true and banal. We can, however, attempt to antic­i­pate future devel­op­ments and to draft more-or-less plausible scenarios.

The commis­sion assumes that the new level of digi­ti­sa­tion (AI, robotics) will not lead to an “end of working society” in the fore­see­able future. It will probably work more as a “changer of jobs” than as a “destroyer of jobs”. There will be signif­i­cant upheaval in the world of work even in this scenario, however. Entire profes­sional cate­gories and sectors will shrink, others will emerge. There will be wide­spread change in the scope of work and the required qual­i­fi­ca­tions. During previous phases of technical ratio­nal­i­sa­tion, the primary concerns were about the fear of job losses in indus­trial produc­tion. Now, even profes­sional services that were consid­ered safe up to this point and that provided rela­tively high incomes are affected by digitisation.

A trend towards a decreased amount of work in automa­tised produc­tion and in digi­ti­s­able services such as banks or insurance companies will be coun­ter­bal­anced by an increased demand in research and devel­op­ment, control­ling, further education, health services and the care sector. The analogous world of things contin­u­ally requires profes­sional skilled trades­people. The demand for basic services is also likely to increase further.

As long as employ­ment levels decrease only by degrees, the substi­tu­tion of human work with machines and the decline in human resources due to demo­graphic change may be kept in balance. The growing number of older people in the general popu­la­tion and longer times spent in education require a signif­i­cant increase in labour produc­tivity to maintain societal pros­perity. Well-crafted digi­ti­sa­tion processes can work hand-in-hand with demo­graphic change here.

At the same time, new infor­ma­tion tech­nolo­gies open up oppor­tu­ni­ties for more energy and resource effi­ciency, intel­li­gent mobility, improve­ments in working condi­tions, decen­tralised produc­tion, and supra-regional coop­er­a­tion as well as access to global markets for small and medium-size companies. The serious social challenge of the coming decades will most likely be the increasing polar­i­sa­tion into winners and losers of global compe­ti­tion and technical inno­va­tion. Parallels to this can already be observed today in people succeeding or falling behind within the employ­ment system. This finds its most obvious expres­sion in the growing gap between high and low wages and the emergence of a class of “working poor”. The inequality of incomes and assets is also showing a tendency to increase in a digital economy.

The commis­sion considers it unlikely that substan­tial decou­pling of social security and gainful employ­ment will become necessary (and possible). There will, however, be a need for new instru­ments of social partic­i­pa­tion that close justice gaps and compen­sate for deficits in the social security system. Among them is a new initia­tive for the partic­i­pa­tion of wide sections of the popu­la­tion in capital assets, in order to ensure a wider spread of the digital dividend as well as everyone’s partic­i­pa­tion in social wealth (“ownership for all”). This would supple­ment trade-union wage policies, which are aiming for fair partic­i­pa­tion of the workforce in the national income. Strength­ening collec­tive wage agree­ments is an integral part of “security in times of change”.Another major problem that needs to be addressed is the pro-active manage­ment of economic struc­tural change, as this will be faster and more compre­hen­sive than to date. This will require expanding in-company and cross-company further training and devel­op­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties, including financial provision for recurring learning phases throughout working life (> chapter 1.2.2 Educa­tional basic income & financial provision for lifelong learning). The German Federal Employ­ment Agency should be developed into an Employ­ment and Further Education Agency, becoming more focused on the preven­ta­tive qual­i­fi­ca­tion of employees and supporting trans­for­ma­tion processes.

Measures should be taken to secure the primacy of man over machines in the course of a possible long-term change to a society where machines are better at most value-creating activ­i­ties. In such a scenario provi­sions must be made to compen­sate for a decline in gainful employ­ment with other sources of income (a basic income financed through taxes, capital assets, self-employment).

(3) “Internal security” in the tradi­tional sense, espe­cially upholding the law and protec­tion from violence. In the face of virulent political and religious extremism, cross-border organised crime as well as the heated discus­sion about serious offences committed by asylum seekers, the topic of internal security gains new relevance. When defending liberal democracy, the public’s need for security must be taken into account. The meaning of the concept of a “well-fortified democracy” must be rethought: how far do we want to go down the mined path of preven­ta­tive security policy. The funda­mental legit­i­macy of the state is the protec­tion of its citizens’ lives and their freedom. This oblig­a­tion must be met on both sides.

The commis­sion paid close attention to security in the public space and non-violent political confronta­tion. Both are elemen­tary achieve­ments of a civil society that must be defended. If the public space is perceived to be hazardous, freedom of movement is limited signif­i­cantly (espe­cially for women). However right it is to promote tolerance for the plain otherness of people, it is equally necessary to system­at­i­cally penalise serious rule viola­tions. An increased presence of law enforce­ment agencies in social hotspots can improve the citizens’ feeling of security as much as planning measures and a housing policy that coun­ter­acts social segre­ga­tion. Violence must not be tolerated. This is also true for the use of violence as a means of political confronta­tion. It is toxic to democracy. If it spreads, it destroys civil political culture.

The series of murders committed by the group “National Socialist Under­ground” (NSU) has massively shaken confi­dence in public security forces, espe­cially among ethnic minori­ties. Recent news about extreme-right networks within the police force and the army has increased this feeling of inse­cu­rity. The consti­tu­tional state is struck at its core when those made respon­sible for its protec­tion take part in anti-consti­tu­tional activ­i­ties. Actions must be taken against this, using the legit­i­mate measures of a consti­tu­tional state. At the same time, the security forces need the backing of both policy makers and the public when fulfilling their consti­tu­tional obligations.

Political education should be developed further and geared more towards preventing extremism. Teaching staff must be better prepared for this. In critical situ­a­tions, teams of experts must be available to support schools, youth centres or penal insti­tu­tions locally.

(4) Finally, the commis­sion was concerned with the question of the role of public insti­tu­tions and an active civil society in times of funda­mental change.The public education system (from kinder­garten to college), a wide network of museums, theatres and concert halls, public service broad­casting, libraries, public utilities and transport services are not merely an expres­sion of “public provision”. They are at the same time insti­tu­tions of the republic, symbolic repre­sen­ta­tions of a demo­c­ratic common­wealth that facil­i­tate partic­i­pa­tion and impart belonging. An invest­ment in socio-cultural infra­struc­ture is therefore also an invest­ment in democracy.

In addition, public insti­tu­tions serve as an anchor of stability in times of turbulent change. They further social cohesion and are central elements of public provision. In recent decades, national, regional and local public invest­ment has been on the decrease (with the exception of the East German Federal States after the fall of the wall), leading to an asset erosion in public infra­struc­ture. We are far behind with the provision of nation­wide high-speed data trans­mis­sion. At the same time, the social expen­di­ture share of public finances has increased. In the light of this, a “primacy for public invest­ment” should be the guideline for national, regional and local budget policy.

Main­taining public infra­struc­ture in regions of demo­graphic as well as economic contrac­tion poses a partic­ular challenge. How can we ensure access to basic services (security, education, health, mobility, public admin­is­tra­tion) in econom­i­cally under­de­vel­oped areas? The state’s with­drawal from rural areas does not only create social problems but also provides fertile ground for populist movements, which fuel conflict between pros­perous large cities and the regions left behind.“Security in times of change” does not only take place by way of govern­ment guar­an­tees. It is also depends substan­tially on the “social capital” of our society, an extensive network of non-profit organ­i­sa­tions, char­i­table trusts, and welfare organ­i­sa­tions as well as a high level of active citizen partic­i­pa­tion in social and cultural issues. Even democracy depends heavily on an active civil society. Policy makers and public admin­is­tra­tions should support citizens’ partic­i­pa­tion and work with civil society stake­holders to the best of their ability.

The commis­sion supports an extension of current instru­ments to promote voluntary work (such as the voluntary social year). In this context, the “citizen work” model should also be actively consid­ered. It would allow profes­sionals to take leave for a limited period in order to take an active part in char­i­table projects. They would receive a tax-financed basic income during this time. Partial profes­sion­al­i­sa­tion of volunteer commit­ment could also be an answer to a possible decline in paid work in the course of the digital revolution.

Local munic­i­pal­i­ties are the focal point for civic involve­ment as this is where inter­ac­tion between citizens and the state is at its closest and where citizens will be able to exert the biggest influence. Local self-govern­ment should be strength­ened and given better financial support.  It offers greater room for manoeuvre locally and thus forms an important contri­bu­tion in strength­ening democracy.

It was neither mission nor intent of the commis­sion to draft radical visions of a completely different society. An unvar­nished depiction of negative devel­op­ments and contrib­u­tory factors in crises should neither result in resigned fatalism nor in fantasies of leaping into a completely different society. Rather, the commis­sion was guided by the maxim of improving the condi­tions, basing this on empirical findings and self-crit­i­cally eval­u­ating their effects. We need more bravery for exper­i­mental politics, trying out new concepts in pilot projects before imple­menting them on a large scale.

When condi­tions change radically, insti­tu­tions, political concepts and instru­ments also have to change. Both policy makers and civil society’s own initia­tive are critical for this.

Please download or read the full report (in German) here: 

Sicher­heit im Wandel_​Der Bericht


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