Nestlé Honcho To Europeans: Your Vacation Obsession Is Killing The Continent

Essay: Nestlé board chairman Peter Brabeck used an exchange during the recent World Economic Forum in Davos to take a dig at Europeans who aren't as devoted to work as he is. Of course, some also don't pull in seven-figure salaries.

Peter Brabeck at the 2012 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Peter Brabeck at the 2012 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Simon Koch

ZURICH -- Peter Brabeck sure doesn't hold back on the subject of the euro crisis. Perfectly groomed, impeccably tanned, the former CEO and current board chairman of Nestlé expressed his view in an unofficial exchange during the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland: "The problem with Europe's competitiveness would be solved if people worked a little more."

One month before the vote in Switzerland on a popular referendum calling for six weeks' annual vacation for everyone, it looks as if those in business circles who oppose the initiative have found a prominent ally. Though he went out of his way in Davos to single out Swiss conscientiousness at the workplace, Brabeck's point summed up in a nutshell is this: live for your work and, when possible, do overtime - and anybody who doesn't get that is a loser.

Maybe the pill would have been easier to swallow if the chairman of the giant multinational company hadn't added in a contemptuously joking tone: "A little more work never hurt anybody, really." Either way, it came across as bitter as a cup of Nescafé, particularly from someone who earns $9.4 million a year.

But let's be honest here. Brabeck is at least setting an example. Still working at 67, the Nestlé chairman is worth somewhere in the $110 million range, according to Bilan magazine. He's even molded his views into a moral principle: "When you tell people that one of the main goals is not having to work anymore, you're destroying the whole meaning of life," he told Swiss-French TV in a didactic and even slightly emotional tone. Again, his message is: live for your work and, when possible, do overtime. Don't get it? Well then, you're a big loser. As far as Brabeck is concerened, that's life's big lesson.

It's nice that Brabeck has words of praise for the Swiss model, but to reduce it to the amount of time spent at work is something only a CEO would do. Sure, we work harder than the French or Germans, and can be proud of that. In 2010, a Swiss worked on average 1,931 hours (Source: Swiss Federal Statistical Office). By comparison, according to a study published on Jan. 10 by the French Coe-Rexecode, the French worked 1,679 hours and are on the bottom rung of the European list.

There are some surprises, though, when you look at the hours worked in European countries. The Germans – who work 1,904 hours per year and have Europe's strongest economy – don't actually top the list. That position is held by Romania, followed by other Eastern European countries. In Bucharest and its surrounding area, average work time per year is 2,095 hours.

Even the Greeks work more than the Swiss do – exactly 40 hours more per year. So it's clear from those examples that working a lot doesn't necessarily determine how competitive a country is. Brabeck is overlooking one of the big strengths of the Swiss work force.

If the tiny country of Switzerland occupies a top rank in the world economy, it's not because of hours spent at the office or on the factory floor: it's because ethics, loyalty and tradition also play a role in producing excellent work. Nursing these characteristics is a delicate process. Boosting productivity requires an optimum environment – an environment where overtime and longer working hours are in fact toxic.

Read the original story in German

Photo - World Economic Forum

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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