Ambassador Wittig will discuss current political events in Europe and his own country, as well as German domestic policy. I have always believed that it is important for us to learn about what goes on in other countries, both their successes and their failures.
In that spirit, this will be a great opportunity for Vermonters to learn about how Germany – one of the world’s major economies – approaches higher education, job training, health care, taxation, climate change and the environment. It will also be interesting to learn about how they maintain their strong social safety net, and much more.
Today, Germany provides a broad range of social benefits to workers and families that we do not — including paid family leave, paid vacation days, and generous early childhood education and tuition-free college. How well do these systems work, how are they paid for, and how did they come about? How does providing free college education help or hinder the German economy?
Much has been written recently about Vermont’s workforce shortage, and making sure young Vermonters have the skills they need to get good-paying jobs. Perhaps we can learn something from Germany’s acclaimed apprenticeship and career-oriented education programs. Nearly half of German youth participate in one of the hundreds of occupation-specific certification programs, and many go on to enjoy job security in successful careers and earn middle-class wages.
Another area where we can potentially learn from Germany is sustainable energy. Interestingly, Germany’s national clean energy goals are actually very similar to Vermont’s: they want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80-90%, and get 80% of their energy from renewable sources by 2050. However, they are way ahead of us in terms of implementation.
Because of significant investments in solar and wind over the past decade, Germany already gets 33% of its energy from renewable sources. How have they been able to move toward a clean energy system in such a dramatic manner, in such little time?
And then there is health care. Like every other major country in the world, Germany guarantees universal coverage as a right of all citizens. While I personally support a different approach to guaranteeing health care for all, I’m guessing we can learn from hearing about how cost-effective their system is, whether people are happy with it, and how the government pays for it.
These are just some of the issues that might be interesting to discuss with Ambassador Wittig. Please bring your own questions about Germany, and join in the discussion on Friday, February 9 in Burlington. I hope to see you there.