What is uninhibited social engagement

Economic policy

André Habisch

To person

Dr. theol., graduate economist, born 1963; Professor at the Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt, Director of the Center for Corporate Citizenship, Ostenstrasse26 - 28, 85072 Eichstätt.
Email: [email protected]

The integration of Europe means pressure on the institutional division of labor in the welfare state. Socially committed companies, as engines of an active civil society, can help shape family and social policy.


Germany is in the midst of a process of change which, in its radical nature, can be compared with industrialization in the 19th century. A gradual restructuring of the economic framework is also changing the structure of society as a whole. The main motor is globalization, which in our part of the world is the economic and institutional integration of Europe.

The latter is not driven by greedy hedge funds or unrestrained capital interests. In competitive markets for goods and services, economic action follows the pressure to satisfy individual needs as cost-effectively as possible. In order to be able to survive in this competition and to be economically successful in the long term, entrepreneurs and companies as "arbitrageurs" use location advantages such as low wages and relocate production facilities worldwide. Ultimately, the motor of globalization is the desire of consumers for an ever better price-performance ratio, including the need of the socially disadvantaged for access to high-quality goods with lower prices.

These economic integration forces, which lead to the use of comparative advantages of the various locations, make a breakthrough wherever they are not hindered by protectionism and national trade barriers. In this respect, too, globalization and European integration are not an industrial accident in history. Rather, they are the result of intensive political efforts to dismantle protectionist trade barriers. The accession of the Central and Eastern European countries to the European Union marks the successful conclusion of a decades-long struggle to create a unified European economic area. The great goal of European politics in the 20th century - the tearing of the Iron Curtain - itself was therefore what promoted the economic integration of Europe.

If politicians were successful in overcoming the division of Europe in foreign policy in the second half of the 20th century, they largely failed to do their "national homework". Because almost all regulatory systems are still organized by the national welfare state and not adapted to the new changed context. For example, in a closed national framework, it makes sense for the state to offer its citizens roads and university education, social security and infrastructure largely "free of charge". After all, the beneficiaries finance these public services through taxes and duties. Progressive income tax systems ensure that, by and large, this is done in a "fair" way. One could compare this financing connection of the closed national welfare state of the post-war period with an "all-you-can-eat" arrangement of a welfare event: everyone pays at the cash register according to their financial means and then serves themselves at the buffet according to their needs and preferences.

Such an arrangement is only stable as long as it is ensured that the way to the buffet only leads past the till and no (or only a few) guests enter the room via other entrances. In the case of cross-border mobility - as is currently desired in an integrated Europe - this national financing context is broken up. Doctors trained in Germany work abroad and pay their income tax in Great Britain or Norway; Transit drivers refuel in Poland and Holland and do not contribute to the financing of the transport infrastructure. In the open economic and living space, national financing cycles of performance and consideration are broken up. Systems therefore have to be readjusted. Transferred to our picture, this means: The "all-you-can-eat" arrangement is gradually becoming a classic restaurant. Everyone pays for what they consume - or at least contributes more to the costs.

In the area of ​​transport infrastructure, this amounts to collecting a motorway toll (at least) for trucks: Costs for using highways are no longer (exclusively) billed collectively to the taxpayer, but more individually to the user. In the area of ​​university financing, tuition fees ensure that the users of an educational "investment" also share in its costs. In the area of ​​health care, the cost shares are now increasing. A very similar development can finally also be observed in the area of ​​childcare: The "family offensive" of the Free State of Thuringia no longer subsidizes lump-sum personnel costs for all kindergartens, but pays family support directly to parents in the form of higher childcare allowances. Anyone who then makes use of the services of a care facility must contribute more to the costs than before.