An anniversary is always the moment to look back and appreciate what has been achieved. At the same time, it is an opportunity for the Bertelsmann Stiftung to recognize that more remains to be done and, as a result, to begin focusing on the challenges that will affect our everyday lives in the future.

Saying ‘Yes’ to Europe

Author: Tanja Breukelchen
Photography:  Jan Voth, Enno Kapitza, Thomas Kunsch

“I think it’s a real shame that Europe is falling apart. I’m now completely used to being able to move about freely, from one country to the next,” says Stephanie Neumann, during an interview for change, the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s corporate magazine. Open borders have always been part of everyday life for the 30-year-old business manager.

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Brexit was a shock

Suddenly everything changed. “I found it unsettling when some borders were closed, for example in Austria – with blocked roads and police everywhere,” she says. “I grew up on a farm in Bavaria. You don’t get more Bavarian than that. I’m proud of where I’m from, but I still think it’s good when Europeans stick together. We are Europe! Brexit was a huge shock for me.”

Voter turnout is declining

She’s not the only one who feels that way. And yet voter participation in Germany is declining and no longer representative of society in general. That, in turn, is detrimental for the country’s democracy. There is no magic bullet that can fix the problem, but it’s important to think about responses all the same, about more transparent voting rights and voting procedures that reflect today’s needs. Those are the topics examined in the latest issue of EINWURF, the Bertelsmann Stiftung policy brief, in which the authors outline an Eight Point Plan: eight proposals that could increase voter turnout – and lessen social inequality.


“Up-to-date voting” – 8-points-agenda to increase voter participation

1. Lowering the active suffrage to 16 years

2. Mobilization of non-voters

3. Reform of the parties‘ financing

4. Modernization of the voting process

5. Benefits of I-Voting

6. Simplify postal vote

7. Combine the election dates

8. Simplify the right to vote

People who seldom and never vote

Surveys show that 41 percent of non-voters say they “never vote,” while 59 percent say they “sometimes” or even “always” do. That means a clear majority of non-voters do not categorically reject participating in Germany’s elections. They are a target group that political parties, including mainstream parties, can address and possibly mobilize. Getting them to vote, however, would require all of Germany’s democratic forces to join together and pursue a shared strategy. The Eight Point Plan is a first step in that direction.



41% of the non-voters say they will never vote.

Electoral innovations

The policy brief’s authors suggest, as a first step, lowering the voting age to 16 for all elections, since that would help increase long-term voter participation. In addition, non-voters must be encouraged to cast their ballot. For example, non-partisan door-to-door campaigns can increase voter turnout by up to 10 percentage points. Party funding regulations should also be reformed and a “voter turnout bonus” introduced to encourage parties to mobilize non-voters.

Modern-day access

Voting procedures should also be modernized: an electronic databank should be created of all registered voters in Germany, and every voter given the opportunity to vote electronically at any polling station in the country. Since more and more services are being offered online, voting via Internet should also be considered. It should be easier to cast an absentee ballot, i.e. the necessary forms should be sent to all registered voters automatically without their having to request them in advance. Finally, voting for local, state and national elections should happen on the same day, since a consolidation for all types of elections on all levels would have a positive impact on voter turnout.

Simple and practical

The authors firmly believe that voting rights should be simplified, since that would encourage more people from all social groups to go to the polls.

If asked, Stephanie Neumann would probably not hesitate for a second to make use of the various possibilities for getting involved. “Looking the other way is not an option, if you consider the populist movements, what’s happening in Europe and the new political developments taking place around the world,” she says.

“It’s when individual countries start closing their borders again that you truly realize how great it is if everyone sticks together.”
Stephanie Neumann, Businesswoman


Brexit or not Brexit
That is the question
“Zeitgemäß wählen” – 8-Punkte-Plan zur Steigerung der Wahlbeteiligung
Die Wahlbeteiligung sinkt und ist sozial nicht mehr repräsentativ. Das schadet unserer Demokratie. Patentrezepte gegen die sinkende Wahlbeteiligung gibt es nicht. Die neue Ausgabe des Policy Briefs “EINWURF” skizziert allerdings acht Vorschläge, die helfen könnten, die Wahlbeteiligung wieder zu steigern und ihre soziale Ungleichheit zu entschärfen.
Strengthening and Connecting Europe
How can Europe assume its role in global competition and vis-à-vis its neighbours in the east and south?
Europa leben: Zuversicht statt Zweifel
Wo bleibt die Erkenntnis, dass Europa ein ganz alter Traum von Frieden und Freiheit ist? Brexit, Flüchtlingsfrage, Populismus, Bürokratiewahn, antieuropäische Tendenzen…
Repair and Prepare: Strengthen the Euro
Europe needs a vision leading from crisis to stability that can act as a guideline for concrete and specific action…

Making a Difference

Author: Tanja Breukelchen
Photography: Christian Gogolin, Kzenon/Shutterstock Images, BMUB/Jürgen Stumpe

Eight think tanks and foundations, one goal: finding answers to the refugee crisis for all of Europe. That was the objective of the Vision Europe Summit held at the end of 2016 in Lisbon. The event brought together 140 policy makers, civil society leaders and academic experts from throughout Europe, including specialists from the Bertelsmann Stiftung (Germany), Bruegel (Belgium), CASE (Poland) Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (Portugal), Chatham House (United Kingdom), Compagnia di San Paolo (Italy), Jacques Delors Institute (France) and The Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra (Finland).

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Citizen Participation Process

The goal of the Citizen Participation Process (Bürgerbeteiligungsverfahren) is to give people a say in creating the Climate Protection Plan 2050. The pilot project is designed to show how citizen participation and representative democracy can be combined nationally. The Bertelsmann Stiftung is supporting and evaluating the process together with Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz.

Refugee Dialogues

World leaders are not the only ones addressing the topic of refugees these days. People are also getting involved in their communities, trying to make a difference. This means reorganizing local resources in order to welcome newcomers. Promoting dialogue between refugees and local residents can reduce anxieties and fear. For example, the dialogue events being organized in the state of Baden–Würtemberg are designed not only to get people talking, but also to help them collect ideas and express their needs. The events promote cooperation so that participants can develop goals and implement projects. To support the dialogues, the Bertelsmann Stiftung has created a website that provides local-level policy makers, community groups and volunteers with insightful ideas and practical tools for successfully integrating refugees into their community:

Vision Europe Summit

Participants from eight countries signed a declaration explaining how Europe could shape its refugee and migration policy in the future. In his remarks, UN Secretary-General António Guterres stressed that migration is part of globalization, and that it can be beneficial as a response to demographic change. “Without migration Europe’s societies could not function,” he said. “Multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural societies are therefore unavoidable.”

“Without migration Europe’s societies could not function.”
UN Secretary-General António Guterres


Refugees in Germany
The large number of refugees and migrants currently arriving in Germany represents a major challenge for the country…
Dialoge führen – Flüchtlinge integrieren. Wie wollen wir zukünftig zusammenleben?
Ankommen in Deutschland bedeutet, ein Zusammenleben vor Ort neu zu organisieren. Flüchtlingsdialoge und Integrationsprojekte mit Flüchtlingen und Bürgern helfen dabei…

How Democracy Works

A comment about Brexit. Books on democracy for kids. A publication on social cohesion. Good ideas can be so exciting.

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Author: Tanja Breukelchen
Illustration: Matthias Berghahn

At the kindergarten that Jelena and Leon attend, things can get pretty exciting. The children have a new adventure every day – adventures that almost always have to do with democracy. For example, when they join together to clean up the dog poop on the playground. Of when they stop the argument about who gets to use the tricycle. A series of books published by the Bertelsmann Stiftung can teach even the youngest learners about democracy.

The stories were developed by Prof. Raingard Knauer and Rüdiger Hansen from the Institut für Partizipation und Bildung (Institute for Participation and Education) in Kiel as part of the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s “Jung bewegt” project. We spoke with the two experts to find out more.

What led to the idea of using picture books to teach democracy?

RÜDIGER HANSEN: Actually the idea has been around for a while. Our colleagues suggested a number of times that we should explain the concepts of social participation and democracy to young children. We always thought using picture books would work well.

PROF. DR. RAINGARD KNAUER: These topics have often been treated second-hand. But books that put it in the title and talk about it directly – that’s new. What’s also new is the combination of children’s books and reference manual.

What approach do the books take?

HANSEN: Children and teachers always encounter problems that have to be solved somehow. What are needed are processes that allow educators and children to work together to come up with a solution. The books describe how to do this.

KNAUER: Often things aren’t that way in practice, however. In preschools, decisions are made on behalf of children. That robs them of the chance to solve problems themselves. The situation that comes up again and again in the books is: Here’s a problem. What can we do to solve it? For many people this was a completely new approach.

Were teachers and parents surprised?

HANSEN: Yes. For educators it’s a paradigm shift. When we visited child-care centers we asked if babies should have the right to decide for themselves if their diapers are changed. The parents and teachers thought we were just trying to provoke them. But we were serious. After all, children are individuals from the moment they are born, which means they have the right to have a say in what happens to them. If you were in a nursing home and your diaper were changed against your will, of course you would object. So what right do we have to do that to our children? Once you begin looking at it, issues that normally seem clear begin to get fuzzy. And that’s when things get interesting.

KNAUER: Educational relationships always have to do with power. Many teachers do not realize that. We want to make them aware of it, since that is the only way we can protect children from misuses of power and give them the opportunity to experience democracy.

What age group were the books written for?

HANSEN: Children between the ages of four and six. The stories are relatively complex. But some parts are understandable even for very young children.

What is the first moment that children discover democracy?

KNAUER: From the very start, children find themselves in a group in which they experience certain basic cultural situations. They ask themselves: Am I seen? Does what I say matter? This starts in the family. At the latest, democracy education begins when they find themselves in a public setting such as preschool, since that’s where they experience how people who are not related to each other deal with each other.

How did you come up with the stories?

KNAUER: They were told to us in preschools. Basically, they all happened in real life.

HANSEN: We alternated between theoretical ideas and practical implementation, reacting to what actually happened.

And big learners? They can also find food for thought, for example in Der Kitt der Gesellschaft (Society’s Glue), the multi-volume publication that examines the diverse nature of social cohesion in Germany.


Leon und Jelena – Jelena im Kinderparlament
Look inside
Der Kitt der Gesellschaft
Perspektiven auf den sozialen Zusammenhalt in Deutschland
Look inside
Aart De Geus zum Ergebnis des Brexit-Referendums
Die Briten haben sich entschieden, die Europäische Union zu verlassen. Unser Vorstandsvorsitzender Aart De Geus kommentiert das Ergebnis.

Pictures That Build Bridges

Author: Tanja Breukelchen
Photography: Pixabay

Pictures that are meant to build bridges. Make people aware. Make them think. “Only by looking at individuals and their stories as refugees can we begin to understand their difficulties, their despair and their hope,” says Aart De Geus, chairman and CEO of the Bertelsmann Stiftung.

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“Direct experience and illuminating images arouse our empathy as human beings, and that is when we truly begin to care and become willing to help.”
Aart De Geus, chairman and CEO of the Bertelsmann Stiftung

At the beginning of the refugee crisis, there was a huge desire to help – overwhelmingly so. And that is still often the case. What has happened since, however, is a cause for concern. “Fear of too many foreigners and of terrorism in parts of society. Politicians and political parties willing to capitalize on those fears. Overt racism towards people of non-German heritage, and demonstrations and violence against refugees,” explains De Geus, summarizing the situation.

A strong country

Where ignorance reigns, fear flourishes. Where interactions are lacking, distances increase. Yet as De Geus notes, Germany in particular is a country that grew up dealing with the issue of refugees, and it overcame both it and similar challenges. “Our country is strong and has experienced migration and displacement repeatedly over the decades,” he says. “After World War II, millions of people fled from German-speaking Eastern Europe. Persecuted people escaping communist oppression and leaving East Germany found a home here in the West. The same is true of people who fled persecution in Iran, Turkey or the wars in the former Yugoslavian countries, as well as those in Iraq, Afghanistan and, currently, Syria. Migrants came with their families as guest workers. The arrival of these people did not cause an emergency – on the contrary. Our material prosperity is based to a considerable extent on these events.”

Flight from Germany


Germans left their home country
1944 – 1950
Flight to Germany


refugees seek protection (asylum) in Germany
2009 – 2015

Learning more

The images in the book not only make the topic of displacement come alive, they also address its causes and the issue of integration. Education is a major topic. Arriving in local communities. Housing, initial contact with neighbors, friendships…

“Challenging Chances” brings all of that together – and shows that it’s happening here, right down the street from us. And that we have the opportunity to get to know each other, to create something new together. “All of our commitment and dedication will be required to successfully integrate the people into society who find protection here and who remain over the long term. We have created the legal framework to make that possible, most recently through the Integration Law which recently took effect,” writes Peter Altmaier in the foreword to the book. Altmaier is chief of staff at the German Chancellery, as well as federal minister for special affairs and the German government’s refugee coordinator.

You can download the “Challenging Chances – Flight in Pictures” book of photographs free of charge here.
PDF-Download (only available in German)

“Policy makers necessarily work with facts and figures,” he writes. “But we always have to keep in mind that those facts and figures are based on individual lives. Images can help us do that. Pictures give us a look at situations and moments that most of us could never even imagine. The photographs in this book very impressively show displaced people at different points as they flee from their homeland – and how they begin living an everyday life in Germany once again. How they start to find their way, learn German, get to know others – out in public, with their families, with friends, in sports groups, in school and at work.”

Pictures of a historic event

A country undergoing profound change. A time of upheaval. But not a time for exclusion or resignation. As Aart De Geus says: “We can’t yet say how the refugee situation will continue to unfold. But this already seems to be an event of historic proportions, one captured by this book’s impressive images.”


Video from the vernissage in cologne
Statement – Wir dürfen es nicht den Populisten überlassen
Refugees in Germany
The large number of refugees and migrants currently arriving in Germany represents a major challenge for the country. There is a pressing need at many levels to find short-term solutions. A long-term vision must also be developed to ensure newcomers are successfully integrated into German society.

Participation for Everyone

Books open up a window to the world. They are a source of pleasure, culture and education. Yet in a democracy, everyone must have access to books. That is why the Bertelsmann Stiftung spent many years helping build libraries. Like libraries, citizens forums have been a key part of the foundation’s work.

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Photography: Archiv Bertelsmann Stiftung

Gütersloh Municipal Library

A mecca for book fans: In 1984, the city of Gütersloh opened its new municipal library, together with the Bertelsmann Stiftung. It was a model project that was designed to remain innovative for years to come, responding to trends faster than other libraries. The project also marked the first time a city joined with a private foundation to form a limited liability corporation with the goal of planning, building and operating a public library.

The building’s design also organized the library’s three main resources according to frequency of use:

• In the back of the building: the archives, since they are not usually open to visitors and can only be accessed using the catalogue
• In the center: the main collection of books, as well as audiovisual materials, newspapers and reference works – the library’s main offerings
• Near the entrance: books on the subjects that interest users most, a convenience not found in most libraries

Other original features include a “book café” for parents, located within sight of the library designed to actively engage children and young people; a “marketplace” for browsing books on the ground floor; a “no-noise” reading room; and regular events. Later, the library for children and young people was expanded and, in 1996, an Internet café was added, the first in a public library in Germany. It was designed to introduce people to the globe’s “data highway” by giving them access to it.

Bibliotheksindex BIX

Reaching everyone in society while meeting quality standards is also a goal pursued by Bibliotheksindex BIX, the project jointly organized by the Bertelsmann Stiftung and the German Library Association. Designed to benchmark and compare the performance of libraries in Germany, BIX evaluates four factors which are identical for public and research libraries: products and services; use; efficiency; and development potential.

Citizens Forum

Although it didn’t use books, Citizens Forum aimed to provide as many people as possible with information and the chance to experience a new type of democracy. Organized by the Bertelsmann Stiftung over a number of years, the forums examined various topics, including the social market economy (2008), Europe (2009) and social cohesion (2011). In 2011 alone, 10,000 people of different backgrounds took part in 25 cities and towns.


Broschüre BürgerForum
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