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IG Metall votes to extend strikes; Bundesbank said to revise growth forecast lower; France and Germany agree on EU agriculture reform.

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Over 78 percent of IG Metall members in Berlin and Brandenburg have voted to strike.

IG Metall votes to strike

German engineering trade union IG Metall said on Tuesday that metal and electrical workers in eastern Berlin and the surrounding state of Brandenburg voted to extend strikes to their region. Metal workers in the eastern state of Saxony have been on the picket lines for over a week, in the hopes of shortening their current 38 hour workweek to the 35 hours that is currently required of their counterparts in western Germany. More than 78 percent of union members voted to strike, topping the minimum 75 percent required. On Saturday, employers and union officials agreed to gradually phase in the 35 hour week for the region’s 9,000 steel workers. IG Metall, which represents over 300,000 employees in the east, said the deal should now be applied to other metal and industrial workers. The union says the difference creates a “fairness gap,” but employers say shortening the eastern week to match the west would endanger thousands of jobs in the former communist east.

German growth seen stalling

Germany’s central bank the Bundesbank has reportedly cut its growth forecast to near zero for this year. The Financial Times Deutschland newspaper said on Tuesday the Bundesbank had revised its previous forecast of 0.5 percent growth for Germany’s gross domestic product to a maximum of 0.2 percent in 2003. Europe’s largest economy is technically in recession after GDP shrank for two consecutive quarters at the end of 2002 and the beginning of this year. In April, Germany’s leading economic institutes predicted the economy would expand by 0.5 percent this year. The government’s official forecast is still at 0.75 percent growth. Neither the Bundesbank nor the Germany Economy Ministry commented on the report.

Schröder and Chirac agree on farm aid German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and French President Jacques Chirac said on Tuesday they had agreed on a common position for reform of the European Union’s agricultural policy. After meeting in Berlin, the two leaders said they would back a “partial decoupling” of aid for farmers from 2006. The EU Commission supports a complete end to production subsidies from 2004, before the agriculturally dependent economies of Eastern Europe join the EU. European agricultural ministers are to meet on Wednesday in Luxembourg to hash out the final details of the reform. Agriculture expenditures currently eat up roughly half of the EU budget.