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Germany

German Government Woos Rebels Ahead of Reform Vote

With only five days left before parliament votes on Chancellor Schröder’s reform package, party heads are busy reeling in the rebels to ensure they toe the Social Democrat Party line.

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Chancellor Schröder is pushing for passage of his Agenda 2010 reform package.

After debate broke out last week in Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s Social Democrat Party following statements by break-away voters that they would not support the government’s labor reform package when it comes up for vote in parliament, the German leader and his party deputies got to work whipping the rebels into party line.

The chancellor for his part once again threatened to resign if his ruling Social Democrat-Greens coalition failed to back him on his Agenda 2010 reform platform, which encompasses employment, taxes, health and pension reforms. Two major components of the hefty package, which calls for a revamping of the government’s labor and tax policy, go up for voting this Friday. Schröder, who has only a slim majority of nine seats in parliament, needs every vote he can get to ensure the bills pass, and he has often resorted to threats of resignation to pull in votes.

Six rebel members of the SPD have threatened to derail the reforms, claiming the planed restructuring of the unemployment benefits, which significantly cuts the amount of money the jobless receive from the government and effectively forces them to take on any job offered, is unfair and goes against the essential nature of social democratic politics.

The same rebel-six also bucked the party line in the last parliamentary vote on healthcare reform two weeks ago, but Schröder was still able to pull through a majority based on support from the conservative opposition Christian Democrat Union.

Signal to compromise

SPD parliamentary floor leader Franz Müntefering indicated on public television on Saturday that the party leaders were ready to discuss some of the sticking issues, including provisions obliging the unemployed to take low-paid jobs.

The dissenting SPD parliamentarians have complained that under the current reform plan, the long-term unemployed -- anyone out of work for more than 12 months -- may be required to draw on their retirement savings and that jobless people in general could be forced to take on low-paid mini jobs below their skill level.

The weekly Bild am Sontag newspaper reported on Sunday that the government compromises for left-wing rebels would require unemployed people to take jobs only if these offered at least the local minimum wage.

"We don’t want any dumping wages," Müntefering was quoted as saying.

The newspaper also outlined modified plans allowing the unemployed over 55 years to retain a higher amount of their private retirement savings. In addition, compromise revisions reportedly included exempting parents from paying contributions for their unemployed children.

Majority is majority

According to Economy Minister Wolfgang Clement and Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer of the Greens, sufficient progress had been made in order to allow all in the coalition to vote yes on the reforms.

On Monday, the coalition leaders want to begin holding party talks on revisions to the labor reforms and take a sample vote in the parties to determine what Friday’s outcome is likely to be.

Although he would prefer a unanimous vote from the coalition -- a so-called chancellor majority -- Müntefering said on Sunday, the SPD could tolerate a few dissenting opinions given the fact that members from the opposition party are also likely to support the bill.

"We just need a simple majority on Friday," he told the media and added "a majority is majority."

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