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Germany

German opposition offers to help government with austerity programme

Germany's opposition Social Democrats have offered Chancellor Angela Merkel an olive branch, promising not to block the government's planned austerity measures.

Social Democrat party chairman Sigmar Gabriel

Gabriel says the Social Democats will not block austerity measures

The leader of the German opposition Social Democrats (SPD), Sigmar Gabriel, has said his party is prepared to work together with Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right government to endorse "necessary" austerity measures to reduce the national deficit.

Gabriel said the SPD does not intend to attempt to block the government but has proposed a numbers of cost-cutting measures, focusing on government subsidies, to resolve the budget problem.

"Under no circumstances do we want a grand coalition [between Christian and Social Democrats], but we naturally recognize how serious the situation is," said Gabriel.

"Even without a grand coalition we could conclude a reasonable agreement on the central issues facing the country," the SPD party chair told German business daily Handelsblatt.

Political blocking

The Social Democrats proposed cuts totaling 10 billion euros ($12.2 billion) per year by focusing on cutting government subsidies, said Gabriel. A reduction in value added tax for hotels passed earlier this year would have to be withdrawn and the top tax rate for high earners should be increased by three percent, Gabriel said.

Gabriel knows he will have the support of a number of members of Merkel's own party, the Christian Democrats, for such changes to the package. But her coalition partners in the liberal Free Democrats regard both issues as coalition-breakers.

In an interview with the Muencher Merkur newspaper, Claudia Roth, chair of the smaller Green opposition party, said she opposed new elections as a solution to the crisis in the government coalition.

"I think the debate about new elections is inappropriate two weeks before the Federal Convention votes for a new German president," said Roth.

Confidence vote

Instead the opposition should use the vote on the government's austerity program in the lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, as a "vote of confidence in the government."

"There are a number of coalition members in the government who will not be supporting this savings package," she said.

Asked about a confidence vote, a government spokesman in Berlin told reporters that Merkel's coalition still had the appetite to rule.

"The government is ready to tackle the tough tasks ahead with the seriousness and decisiveness needed," he said.

Polls show most Germans view the goverment's 80-billion euro savings package over the next four years as socially unjust.

Author: Nigel Tandy (dpa,Reuters)

Editor: Michael Lawton

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