German Government Wants To Shape How Citizens Balance Work And Family

In a new German government report on families, experts suggest a greater public role in helping families better manage their time. The Minister of Families wants "family-friendly" regulations. Will this lead to more flexible working hour

Felix Berth

German politicians have decided to turn their attention to time – and not just to something routine like official opening hours for stores or the working hours of public employees. Instead they're concerned about work and family time. As Minister of Families Kristina Schröder recently said, it's high-time the government developed "practical concepts for a family-friendly time management policy."

Schröder's statement accompanied the release of a new report on families. Compiled by a commission of eight experts, the report explores the time constraints faced by German families and looks at ways the government might make structural adjustments in order to give those families just a bit more time to spend together.

For some, this notion of government-driven "time management policy" is no doubt alienating – particularly for those grumbling about how government already sticks its nose too much into people's private lives. Every day has 24 hours: no politician, no expert, can change that. And every individual decides for themselves how to spend that day. So what's to regulate? And even if the government was to come up with "solutions," does the country really need them?

The eight academics who wrote the report would claim that at least one of the premises of these questions is wrong, notably that people decide for themselves how to spend their time. And they offer some pretty conclusive evidence to back that up.

Many Germans do not, in fact, think that they enjoy "time sovereignty," to use a popular sociological term. Mothers, for example, often wish for more flexible work time. Fathers are frequently on the job for well over 40 hours per week and feel dissatisfied at having so little time to spend with their kids. Genuine "time sovereignty" looks altogether different, the experts say. If men and women could really decide for themselves, fathers would spend less time at work, and mothers more.

Another phenomenon, dubbed "the rush hour of life," has emerged over recent years. Young adults realize how many things they are expected (and, often, want) to accomplish in just a few years of their life: get a job and start a career; find a partner; have children and spend as much time as possible with them when they are young. These are not unpleasant activities per se – but all at once?

Vague and incomplete

So now comes the question of what exactly politicians can do about the time issue. The excerpt from the report issued last Friday by Minister Schröder is rather vague on that score. One of the study's few concrete recommendations is that kindergartens make their opening hours more flexible in order to accommodate the fact that some 40% of Germans have to work "atypical" hours. Atypical, in this case, refers to night shifts or weekend hours. Good advice, but advice is cheap when the one proffering it doesn't actually have to do anything about it.

More interesting are some of the time-policy mechanisms the report excludes. For example, it makes no mention of German tax law, which – as an article by Stefan Bach and other economists at the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) shows – has enormous repercussions on time. The article posed the question of how the way German couples spend their work time would change if a tax law known as "Ehegattensplitting" – taxation of a couple's total income based on equal halves – were abolished.

At first glance, that too looks like a bizarre question. What does that law have to do with work time? Bach thinks it has a lot to do with it. The core of the law is that the same rate of taxation applies to both partners in a marriage. This is very advantageous to men with full-time jobs. It is not the least bit favorable to women with part-time jobs: if they work more, their income is taxed at a comparatively higher rate. The DIW calculates that if the law were to be repealed, men in the western part of Germany would cut their work time by about 2% and women would increase theirs by about 8%. So that definitely has to do with "time management policy," but it is not one the Ministry of Families cares to recommend.

The same goes for the 400-euro a month jobs more often filled by women than by men. These also impact "time policy" because they represent an obstacle to women. The system pretty much guarantees that no woman is going to increase her work time significantly because otherwise her social charges are going to go up, as is what she pays in taxes. But that's not an issue if she limits her monthly earnings to a maximum of 400 euros.

Cases such as these were sharply criticized in another recent report on equality of the sexes for the Ministry of Families. That report, however, did not find favor with Minister Schröder. She sent a secretary of state to represent her to the meeting at which it was presented.

Read the original story in German

Photo - kwanie

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Paying tribute to the victims of the attack in Kongsberg

Terje Bendiksby/NTB Scanpix/ZUMA
Carl-Johan Karlsson

The bow-and-arrow murder of five people in the small Norwegian city of Kongsberg this week was particularly chilling for the primitive choice of weapon. And police are now saying the attack Wednesday night is likely to be labeled an act of terrorism.

Still, even though the suspect is a Danish-born convert to Islam, police are still determining the motive. Espen Andersen Bråthen, a 37-year-old Danish national, is previously known to the police, both for reports of radicalization, as well as erratic behavior unrelated to religion.

Indeed, it remains unclear whether religious beliefs were behind the killings. In an interview with Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, police attorney Ann Iren Svane Mathiassens said Bråthen has already confessed to the crimes, giving a detailed account of the events during a three-hour interrogation on Thursday, but motives are yet to be determined.

Investigated as terrorism 

Regardless, the murders are likely to be labeled an act of terror – mainly as the victims appear to have been randomly chosen, and were killed both in public places and inside their homes.

Mathiassens also said Bråthen will undergo a comprehensive forensic psychiatric examination, which is also a central aspect of the ongoing investigation, according to a police press conference on Friday afternoon. Bråthen will be held in custody for at least four weeks, two of which will be in isolation, and will according to a police spokesperson be moved to a psychiatric unit as soon as possible.

Witnesses have since described him as unstable and a loner.

Police received reports last year concerning potential radicalization. In 2017, Bråthen published two videos on Youtube, one in English and one in Norwegian, announcing that he's now a Muslim and describing himself as a "messenger." The year prior, he made several visits to the city's only mosque, where he said he'd received a message from above that he wished to share with the world.

Previous criminal history 

In 2012, he was convicted of aggravated theft and drug offenses, and in May last year, a restraining order was issued after Bråthen entered his parents house with a revolver, threatening to kill his father.

The mosque's chairman Oussama Tlili remembers Bråthen's first visit well, as it's rare to meet Scandinavian converts. Still, he didn't believe there was any danger and saw no reason to notify the police. Tlili's impression was rather that the man was unwell mentally, and needed help.

According to a former neighbor, Bråthen often acted erratically. During the two years she lived in the house next to him — only 50 meters from the grocery store where the attacks began — the man several times barked at her like a dog, threw trash in the streets to then pick it up, and spouted racist comments to her friend. Several other witnesses have since described him as unstable and a loner.

The man used a bow and arrow to carry the attack

Haykon Mosvold Larsen/NTB Scanpix/ZUMA

Police criticized

Norway, with one of the world's lowest crime rates, is still shaken from the attack — and also questioning what allowed the killer to hunt down and kill even after police were on the scene.

The first reports came around 6 p.m. on Wednesday that a man armed with bow and arrow was shooting inside a grocery store. Only minutes after, the police spotted the suspect; he fired several times against the patrol and then disappeared while reinforcements arrived.

The attack has also fueled a long-existing debate over whether Norwegian police should carry firearms

In the more than 30 minutes that followed before the arrest, four women and one man were killed by arrows and two other weapons — though police have yet to disclose the other arms, daily Aftenposten reports. The sleepy city's 27,000 inhabitants are left wondering how the man managed to evade a full 22 police patrols, and why reports of his radicalization weren't taken more seriously.

With five people killed and three more injured, Wednesday's killing spree is the worst attack in Norway since far-right extremist Anders Breivik massacred 77 people on the island of Utøya a decade ago.

Unarmed cops

As questions mount over the police response to the attack, with reports suggesting all five people died after law enforcement made first contact with the suspect, local police have said it's willing to submit the information needed to the Bureau of Investigation to start a probe into their conduct. Police confirmed they had fired warning shots in connection to the arrest which, under Norwegian law, often already provides a basis for an assessment.

Wednesday's bloodbath has also fueled a long-existing debate over whether Norwegian police should carry firearms — the small country being one of only 19 globally where law enforcement officers are typically unarmed, though may have access to guns and rifles in certain circumstances.

Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert and professor at the Swedish Defence University, noted that police in similar neighboring countries like Sweden and Denmark carry firearms. "I struggle to understand why Norwegian police are not armed all the time," Ranstorp told Norwegian daily VG. "The lesson from Utøya is that the police must react quickly and directly respond to a perpetrator during a life-threatening incident."

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