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Berlin Firm on New Youth Job Levy

German chancellor Gerhard Schröder faced a new challenge to his ambitious plans for economic and social reform on Tuesday when small and medium-sized businesses said they would vehemently oppose a new levy intended to increase job training opportunities for young people. Companies that take on too few apprentices - or who don't train any at all - will be forced to pay a penalty. But Mario Ohoven, heads of the German Association of Small and Medium-sized Businesses, says only large corporations have the option of buying themselves out of the obligation to run costly training schemes. Eighty percent of the apprenticeships are in small and medium-sized businesses. Franz Müntefering, newly designated Social Democrat party chairman, has dismissed criticism of the new levy. "Last year, 35,000 young people didn't get any job training at all," he said. "That's not something that can be allowed to continue." He added that the onus was on unions and employers in the various sectors. If they agreed among themselves to create enough apprenticeships, then the government wouldn't need to step in, he said.