Population and society
Made up of nearly 81 million people, the German population is the largest in the European Union. In recent years, however, there has been a slight decrease: the demographic increase rate was 0.3%, the fertility rate was 1.4 children per woman, while the migration rate – much decreased compared to the 1990s. – is 6.8 per thousand residents.
The foreign resident population in Germany consists mainly of immigrants who arrived in the 1950s and 1960s and their descendants, mostly from southern Europe and Turkey. The Turkish population is the country’s largest minority: in 2014, according to data from the German National Statistical Institute, about 1.5 million Turkish citizens resided in Germany. Another important flow of migrants then occurred in the country during the 1990s when, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, numerous Germans returned to their homeland from Eastern European countries, such as Poland, Romania and Hungary.
The German education system is characterized by the principle of federalism (education, science and culture are governed and administered primarily by the Länder) and by the principle of ideological and social pluralism. Spending on education amounted to 4.8% of GDP in 2011, just below the EU member state average of 5.3%. According to the 2012 data of the program for the international evaluation of students launched by the OECD, Germany has results above the average of the OECD countries in the three main areas of competence examined (mathematics, science, reading).
According to MICROEDU, Germany has one of the oldest universal health systems in Europe: it requires all citizens to register in a health fund. Health expenditure is equal to 8.7% of GDP ; in November 2010, as part of the welfare reforms aimed at tackling the problem of the aging of the population, the government launched a reform of the health system aimed at reducing the budget deficit, but entailing an increase in the costs of treatments for citizens.
Freedom and rights
In Germany, the majority of the population is Christian – Protestant (34%) and Catholic (34%) – while 3.7% is Muslim. The regulatory protections for freedom of religion that Germany is endowed with differ from some recent criminal episodes linked to ethnic and religious discrimination. Some studies have found, in particular, a growth in feelings of hostility towards the Islamic religion: the unease felt for the large Turkish minority has changed in recent years to include all Muslims, so much so that in Germany we start talking about ‘ Islamophobia ‘. Eight Länder have in recent years adopted laws banning Muslim teachers from wearing hijabs during work. However, in March 2015 the Federal Constitutional Court, assessing the appeal of two Muslim teachers against the North Rhine-Westphalia law, declared these rules unconstitutional.
Germany is at the forefront in Europe on the protection of women’s rights. The government has implemented generous maternity policies and adopted non-discrimination laws. Merkel is the first female chancellor and the new Bundestag holds a record number of women, accounting for 36.5% of the entire chamber. However, women are underrepresented in executive positions in public administration, companies, universities and courts, as well as being sometimes subject to wage discrimination. For example, there are no women among the CEOs of the top thirty German companies, and according to a recent survey published in the leading German financial newspaper Handelsblatt, 59% of German medium-sized companies do not have women in leadership positions, compared to 36% of the Eu average. To try to remedy this situation, the Bundestag approved – in March 2015 – a law that requires companies to set fixed quotas equal to 30% dedicated to women in supervisory company boards. A rule that will come into force from 2016 and will affect, among other things, over 100 companies listed on the stock exchange.
The German Constitution protects freedom of expression and the media are free and independent; a 2003 Constitutional Court ruling ruled that monitoring of journalists’ phone calls can only be considered legitimate in ‘serious’ cases. In 2014, 86.8% of the population had access to the internet. The web is not subject to limits, with the exception of the sites of pedophilia and Nazi propaganda. Since January 2009, an anti-terrorism law grants the authorities greater powers to conduct covert surveillance, with the possibility of carrying out remote and secret searches on the Internet.
In the first months of 2014, the emergence of an electronic espionage system of the American NSA against numerous personalities of the German ruling class aroused strong indignation in the country, causing a general cooling of relations with the United States, thanks to the memory of the years systematic espionage practiced by the GDR against its citizens.