THE BLOG

Dialogue Instead of Confrontation

03/03/2016 17:04 GMT | Updated 03/03/2017 10:12 GMT

At a time when disputes and international conflicts are increasing in frequency all over the world and, sadly, wars are even being fought in some places, we should be grateful for any event that, like the Global Leadership Forum, offers a platform for peaceful debate about what are certainly sometimes controversial positions or, like the World Culture Festival in New Delhi, facilitates a cultured meeting of minds between different nationalities and religions.

In view of the global problems that confront us, it is important for current and former politicians, academics, business representatives, ecologists and financial experts, as well as activists from nongovernmental organisations to meet, conduct dialogues and discuss solutions together.

And there really are more than enough problems, from the impending climate catastrophe, the starvation seen in many of the world's countries, the struggles for control over our declining reserves of raw materials and the challenges they pose for our future energy supply to, on the one hand, the necessary fight against international terrorism and, on the other, the preservation of civil rights and individual liberties in the face of state surveillance and secret services that, in many countries, are ever more becoming a law unto themselves. Individuals who engage with these issues and accept they are running considerable personal risks in doing so should not be persecuted, but supported. As far as I am concerned, a man like Edward Snowden does not deserve to be sent to prison; on the contrary, he is a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize!

The list of questions it would be worth debating could certainly be much longer, but there is one topic that particularly disturbs me personally: the ever widening gulf between the poor and the rich.

Germany is undoubtedly one of the richest countries in the world and just last year collected 19 billion euros more in tax revenues than had been anticipated. And yet, even here, poverty and the risks of poverty are being discussed ever more often.

According to current statistics, there are over 100 billionaires and 1.14 million people with assets valued at more than a million dollars living in Germany alone. Ten per cent of households control nearly 52 per cent of the country's total wealth. The lower 50 per cent of households own just about one per cent of the net wealth in Germany. Eight years ago, the proportion of the country's wealth they owned was three per cent.

In my home region, Saxony, there are towns where a quarter of the children now live in families that are reliant on state welfare support. But elderly people too have more and more to worry about. German old-age pensions used to be worth just under 60 per cent of the recipient's income immediately prior to their retirement, but soon pensioners will receive just little more than 40 per cent of their previous income. After forty years of hard work, many people will get hardly more than the basic subsistence income provided by social assistance. Ever more people, particularly in East Germany, are afraid of poverty in old age.

I know the situation is far more dramatic in many of the world's countries, and not a few observers will view the figures from Germany as something of a luxury problem, yet it needs to be kept in mind that the divide between the poor and the rich is getting ever wider almost everywhere. This development must urgently be stopped. And it should be talked about in Delhi as well!

Another central topic must, from my point of view, be the peaceful resolution of conflicts that break out within and between states. Wars do not solve any problems, but merely create new ones. Nor can terrorism be defeated with bombs. Instead of expanding our weapons exports, even to crisis regions, we finally have to boost development aid for poorer countries to a significant extent. It is disgraceful that a country as rich as Germany is still miles away from fulfilling its promises and devoting 0.7 per cent of its economic output to development cooperation.

There are more people seeking refuge now than at any time since the end of the Second World War. Some put the figure at 60 million - which is a gigantic number. Of these people, more than a million have come to Germany, and I am glad that the great majority of our citizens have given these refugees a friendly welcome, and that many are actively supporting their integration. This culture of welcome has earned us much recognition and respect worldwide.

At the same time, however, there have also been images that have revealed a different, darker Germany of violent assaults on refugees and arson attacks on refugee hostels. Civil society has a duty to oppose these crimes in a determined fashion, especially as there are countries that, relative to their populations, have taken in far more refugees than Germany, countries like Jordan and Lebanon, for example.

This is why I hope Delhi will also offer opportunities to talk about the factors that drive people to flee their homes and possible ways of overcoming them. I am aware a forum of this kind is not going to solve the problems that are hanging over us, but it can certainly contribute to the efforts that are being made, and that in itself is an encouraging sign.

The author is a Member of the German Bundestag and parliamentary secretary of the Left Party parliamentary group.