On Sunday night, June 6, we were welcomed to Germany and Tuebingen by Reiner Rohr, the Director of the German American Fulbright Commission. In his opening remarks, he noted several large questions that face Germany over the next several weeks.
1. The first was that for the first time in the history of the German Federal Republic, the Federal President has stepped down short of his term. This post is mostly honorific, but the Bundespraesident has been traditionally a consensus figure who united the country (think Theodor Heuss).
2. Despite a clear majority in the Bundestag, the popularly elected representative body from which coalition governments emerge, Angela Merkl's coalition was dealt a blow when the Christian Democrats and the Liberal Democrats lost a state election in North Rhine Westfalia, the nation's largest state. This endangered the CDU-LPD majority in the Bundesrat, which represents state interests and has the check on all legislation having to do with state level affairs.
3. The above is significant because the Federal Law has a legislative deadline of 2014 to cut its budget deficit, which can only be accomplished with either more taxes or cuts in the social safety net. Indeed, on Monday, according to the Suddeutsche Zeitungen's lead story, Angela Merkl's coalition has announced cuts in Elterngelder (parental allowances) and unemployment insurance. The problem will come when Merkl tries to cut taxes, as promised in the last election.
4. The German education system by and large will not be affected by the budget cuts, but larger European concerns, especially 1998's Bologna reforms that called for the PISA (Program for International student Achievement), an attempt to harmonize education systems across Europe for the sake of facilitating labor mobility. This will impact the German system hard because of the diverse nature of education. Mainly, education has up until now been a state affair, which means that there are 16 different school systems in Germany depending on the state.
The Federal Republic has also reformed the school system to be K-12 instead of K-13 with longer school days making up for the lost time. This, in addition to the changes in the Military Service obligations and the institution of a 3 year bachelor's degree and a 2 year specialized master's means that young Germans who go through the university will hit the job market at age 25 instead of age 28 as had been the average. As we shall see, this is only part of the system, and only part of the dilemma's facing young Germans and their teachers.