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Germany

German Opposition Parties Call for Parliamentary Investigation

A bitter battle has broken out between the German government and opposition parties over allegations the ruling coalition deceived the electorate over the state of the economy before the September election.

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Did Gerhard Schröder (right) and Hans Eichel know more about the state of the economy than they let on?

A mudslinging match has erupted between the German government coalition and the opposition over the latter's calls for a parliamentary committee investigation into alleged election fraud.

The Christian Democratic Union, its sister party the Christian Social Union, and the business-friendly Free Democrats have accused the government of deliberately misleading voters before the September election on the state of the German economy.

Merkel wants investigation

CDU leader Angela Merkel said a parliamentary investigation was the only way of determining how much and when the Social Democratic-Green coalition knew about the grim economic situation.

It was important, she said, to find out whether the government had "knowingly suppressed knowledge" on the state of the economy, thereby committing electoral fraud.

The CDU is up in arms over the tax revenue forecasts presented by Finance Minister Hans Eichel before the election. Due to a massive tax revenue shortfall the cabinet is due to approve an emergency €13.5 billion increase in net borrowing this year, bringing the total to €34.6 billion ($35 billion). Next year's budget has also been revised after the projected €15.5 billion in borrowing was increased to €18.9 billion.

"Irresponsible" claims

The Social Democrats' party manager, Wilhelm Schmidt, dismissed the charges and described the CDU's attempts as "irresponsible." He said Merkel's claim that the government knowingly remained silent on the economy was not sustainable.

"The fact is that we didn't know about the massive revenue shortfalls until September," he said. He also accused the opposition of duplicity, saying that if "they were so well-informed before the election why did they make electoral promises to the tune of €70 billion?"

Electoral maneuver

The Greens' budgetary spokesman, Oswald Metzger, said the CDU maneuver was a case of blatant electioneering by Hesse's premier, Roland Koch. That state goes to the polls in February. Metzger said the budgetary shortfall was known not only to the federal government but also to the states before the general election.

There was more criticism for Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and his government on Monday after the federal audit office revealed that the government had wasted €2 billion in public funds. The office said thoses expenditures could have been avoided through prudent financial management.

One example for the government's extravagance, the office said, was the development of a rocket-firing system for the German army worth €157 million. Over 25 years had passed between the decision to develop it and its operation ability. Now, though, the Bundeswehr had decided to scrap the system because it was out of date, the office criticized.

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