Bundestag to Vote on Controversial Labor Market Reforms | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 17.10.2003
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Bundestag to Vote on Controversial Labor Market Reforms

Friday's vote in the Bundestag on labor market reforms will be close. Schröder has reined in rebellious members of his own party, but a Green, a member of the government's coalition partner, says he won't vote yes.


In the spotlight: Schröder has staked his political future on the passage of his reform legislation.

In what will likely be a very close vote, the German Bundestag will decide on controversial labor market reforms Friday. After a week of last minute negotiations and concessions, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has managed to rein in the rebellious members of his own Social Democratic Party (SPD) party and secure a majority.

With all the members of the SPD and enough Greens -- the SPD's coalition partner -- supporting the legislation entitled "Agenda 2010," it should squeak by the lower house with 305 'yes' votes. The opposition parties, with 297 votes, will not be able to hold-up things in the Bundestag. They will have to wait for their chance when the package of bills moves on to the opposition-controlled Bundesrat -- the upper house of parliament -- for approval.

Werner Schulz

Werner Schulz, a Green Party member, says he won't support the labor market reforms.

But having battled hard to get this far, one vote will elude Schröder, that of a Green. Call him a conscientious objector, Werner Schulz says he won't support the legislation. In an article the Tageszeitung newspaper Schulz wrote on Friday: "I cannot vote for this reform package, because it, unfortunately, does little to change the unemployment situation, and goes partly in the wrong direction." To avoid his 'no' vote coming to the opposition's aid, Schulz said he would abstain.

Hours before members of the Bundestag must make up their minds, Federal Labor Minister Wolfgang Clement appealed for their support. Clement defended the reform package, which includes restructuring the Federal Labor Agency and combining the previously separate unemployment and social welfare benefits. He said the two controversial measures were "central features of our fight against this country's oppressive unemployment situation."

Last minute wrangling

The weary chancellor's true adversaries -- with the political power to block his reform program -- are the rebellious left of his own party and the conservatives in the opposition CDU. For a chancellor who has staked his political future on the successful implementation of a series of reforms -- including healthcare, pension, tax and labor market reform -- Schröder also knows he can't afford to suffer any more significant setbacks.

The weeks leading up to Friday's vote have been tumultuous. During September's vote on healthcare reform, six left-wing members of Schröder's own SPD revolted and voted against the legislation. Thus, Schröder was robbed of his so-called "chancellor's majority" in the Bundestag.

Schröder was so incensed, that he staked his political future on the implementation of "Agenda 2010," threatening to resign if he was unsuccessful. In this particular case, however, September's revolt proved little more than a political embarrassment, as the ruling coalition had carefully negotiated the content of the healthcare legislation with the opposition CDU prior to the vote and could therefore count on enough support from them to carry it through.

Not so in matters related to labor reform. The CDU has its own ideas about how labor market reform should proceed, so every vote from the chancellor's own ranks will count this time around.

Schröder and high-ranking SPD officials do not want to see a repeat of the events of September. When earlier this month the same six left-wing party members threatened to once again go against the party line, it was enough to bring the party leaders to the negotiating table. Twelve pages of last minute changes were the result.

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