German pain, Ireland's gain


Madam, – Why should European taxpayers be expected to subsidise a standard of living higher than their own? There is a surprising willingness to help here in Germany but little sympathy for an Irish backlash against allegedly harsh bailout conditions.

Average gross income here is currently €32,000 per annum, which translates into considerably less take-home pay than is common in the Republic. Apart from mostly higher income tax, the social levy (pension, health, and unemployment insurance) amounts to 36 per cent of gross salary, of which employers pay half. University teachers here can only dream of what their Irish counterparts of equivalent qualification take home and the same goes for ordinary teachers. A hospital Oberarzteffectively works around 50 hours a week and takes home less than half as much as an Irish hospital consultant, his equivalent in qualifications and experience.

The highest contributory state pension is similar to that in Ireland but that is not a fiscal issue here anyway, as the system only pays out what it takes in. Those without a pension get the dole, the standard rate for adults being €359 per month per person, means-tested. Plus means-tested rent subsidies, etc. Those insured against unemployment get more, but generally only for the first 12 months. Like everyone else, pensioners pay for their medical insurance, around 7 per cent of their pensions; there are no medical cards, free travel, free TV licences and the like.

True, the cost of living here is lower. Few can afford more than a €300,000 mortgage and they are expected to come up with at least 20 per cent deposit, so sellers cannot ask for more in most regions. You won’t see many of the larger German cars on German roads: most of them are exported to places like China, the US, or Celtic Tiger Ireland. And I don’t know anyone here who ever went on a Christmas shopping trip to New York – but I do know several in my home country.

In short, the Irish are heading back towards European normality in the next five years, not austerity. Sadly, there are individuals on low income, or unemployed, who will be badly hit, as well as those who took on unsustainable mortgage repayments; but that is a problem of redistribution of wealth in what is still a low-tax country, a problem which is now becoming evident in the crisis. It is an issue for the Irish in Ireland to solve, and not for the rest of Europe. – Yours, etc,