Strengthening social cohesion is a task that will not take care of itself, says the Federal President. In the ARD interview, the head of state responds to criticism from young people – and formulates his very own definition of democracy.

Despite criticism, Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier is still in favor of a compulsory social year. “We need new models in which we can get young and old talking to each other and practice the conviction that we also have to be there for others,” said Steinmeier in an interview broadcast on Sunday by the ARD program “Report from Berlin”.

His suggestion was driven by the concern “that we have to restore cohesion,” said Steinmeier. “My conviction remains: It will be difficult if we don’t create opportunities in which we practice cohesion.”

Steinmeier initiated a debate about a compulsory social year in the summer and received a lot of criticism for it. Young people in particular reject the obligatory nature of social commitment.

It was clear to him from the outset “that this is not an idea that will fly by itself,” Steinmeier admitted. With regard to criticism from young people, the Federal President made it clear: “I deliberately did not only propose it for young people.” In his view, the period does not have to be one year either.

The only important thing for him is: “Everyone should do something for other people who are strangers to them once in their life.” That also applies to older people. However, he is also open to alternative suggestions: “If there are better ideas than those of the compulsory period, I am happy to discuss them. The only thing I don’t want is for this debate to end in nothing again.”

The interview with Steinmeier marked the start of the ARD theme week entitled “We wanted – what keeps us together”.

When asked how one could win back people who don’t vote or no longer vote for democratic participation, Steinmeier explained: “By saying: Democracy is not a supermarket. You can’t go there and take what you like off the shelf.”

Incidentally, one cannot complain about the fact that some things are not available, said the Federal President. “Democracy is a demanding form of government. We are also responsible for restocking the shelves.”

Creating more commitment to democracy could also mean establishing citizens’ councils as a democratic element, the Federal President went on to explain. The Bundestag also supports this form of citizen participation. More important than the form is the participation itself, said Steinmeier. He also experiences this in Bellevue Palace, where an exchange with different citizens takes place every day.