Dear Mrs. Merkel, Now Is the Time for a Common Vision

German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives to a special faction meeting of the Christian Union parties at the Reichstag building
German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives to a special faction meeting of the Christian Union parties at the Reichstag building in Berlin, Thursday, Nov. 26, 2015. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

Dear Mrs. Merkel,

To you, the past 10 years of your chancellorship must seem like a blur. Worldwide banks collapsed, whole states tumbled into the abyss. And with other heads of states and governments, you have spent nights in neon-lit conference rooms struggling over the future of our continent. Over and over again.

At the same time, millions of people set off for Northern Europe. And in this unclear situation, the German economy has blossomed from a problem child into a world-acclaimed role model.

What a decade of extremes.

But in all this turmoil, dear Mrs. Merkel, we tend to overlook the problem. Of course, the refugee crisis is putting us face to face with a gigantic task. However, Germany is in a crisis that reaches much further.

Rarely has such great fear of social decline been as palpable in Germany as it is today.

At Pegida demonstrations, people are screaming it. They're fighting about it over dinner. And they're transferring it to the comment sections on Facebook. Of course, people are bothered by current worries, housing shortages, criminality and terror.

But if you take a closer look at their arguments, if you study the poll ratings or some of the thousands of comments online, it always involves an additional concern: Who will look after us?

Wariness of strangers is based on fear -- and that's not even news. For years, scientists have stressed the correlation between xenophobia and the fear of social decline. And this doesn't even concern people in the low-income bracket: The entire German middle class is unsettled. Heinz Bude, sociologist from Kassel, has stipulated to a downright status panic in Germany.

How much longer until I won't be able to belong? How will things develop for us? How can I provide my children with a good education?

Many things that used to be for certain aren't certain anymore. The boom of private tutoring in the middle class families offers a clear example. People have lost faith in the institution of schools. They want an additional safety net.

Dear Mrs. Merkel, Germans are noticing the shift that has just begun.

Germans have lost a common idea of the future.

They notice that after this eventful decade, Germany is about to change profoundly. And they need somebody to explain this transition to them.

Recently, a cab driver told me: "I like Mercedes. But I need to take them to the mechanic too often. And when it comes to VW, you can't rely on anything anymore. But the only thing the Toyota Prius needs after 100,000 km is a new light bulb." Thus, to him, the decision was clear. That Toyota is facing problems like their recent scandals in the U.S. didn't seem to bother him.

Mrs. Merkel, when a giant like VW staggers and when the vehicles that are suitable for the masses, equipped with innovative, hybrid drives come from Asian producers instead of from Wolfsburg, people intuit that something is not quite right. Many people are aware of the enormous competition from Asia that German industries -- not only car manufacturers -- are faced with.

And they sense that, in the coming years, due to the digitalization whirling into practically every corner of our workplace, entire economic sectors will disappear (and their jobs along with them). Formerly secure jobs in the manufacturing industry are disappearing. Even traditional German high-tech producers like Osram prefer to build their factories in Asia.

Maybe some people also suspect that at the moment, the economy is thriving, due to cheap oil prices and low interest rates -- a kind of fortunate economic stimulus program that could end any moment.

Therefore, at this moment in time when more Germans are prospering than ever, more and more people have a pessimistic outlook into the future.

What's odd about this: this atmosphere is starkly disproportionate to the economic reality.

Never before have there been so many jobs in Germany. In the future, an increasing number of companies will have difficulties filling vacancies. Never before has it been so easy for young companies to get money. And there have never been as many university graduates in Germany as right now.

According to the YouGov pollsters, one possible reason to explain the pessimism could be that "wealth creates the fear of things getting worse again."

But that's just one reason.

The other reason is this: Germans have lost a common idea of the future.

Dear Mrs. Merkel, at the moment we are merely managing our heritage, instead of considering what we want to hand down one day.

Therefore, we have to wonder what kind of country we want to inhabit in the future.

How do we want to work? What do we want our economy to look like? And above all: How do we want to live with the people arriving in our country at the moment?

Maybe, we could be a nation that is proud of all its young companies that are trying to co-create an interconnected future. A nation that is celebrating innovation, instead of condemning it. An open-minded nation that attracts motivated people from all over the world to help us make our common vision come true.

A nation focused once again on equal opportunities -- that integrates people who feel like they have been left behind; but also a nation that doesn't waste energy on too much leveling down.

A nation, in which people are willing to take risks. Personally, professionally and in families: children, for example, are such a risk. People with a pessimistic outlook into the future are less likely to have children. Therefore, we have to become a nation that catches people, who can't stand by themselves anymore.

Mrs. Merkel, in recent years, you have focused on saving Germany from disasters. Time and again, we have defined what we DON'T want to be.

But meanwhile, you have overlooked the biggest disaster: That we don't share a common idea of the future.

Right now would be the time to start with that.

This post first appeared on HuffPost Germany and was translated into English.

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