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Germany

German parliament begins 'divisive' budget debate

The Bundestag, Germany's lower house, has begun its debate on the 2011 budget. The finance ministry is looking to reduce spending drastically but there is opposition as to where those reductions are being made.

The German Bundestag

The four-day budget debate is expected to be heated

The Bundestag, Germany's lower house, convened this Tuesday to begin discussing the budget for 2011. According to the finance ministry, spending cuts adding up to 12 billion euros ($15 billion) are planned.

Germany, like many other countries around Europe still dealing with the effects of the financial crisis, is faced with the need to make massive spending cuts to balance its budget.

In June the federal government in Berlin proposed an unprecedented package of austerity measures that aim to reduce government spending by 80 billion euros over the next four years.

Distribution of austerity

The spending cuts have been extensively debated since being proposed. The criticism, however, is not focused on the amount of the cuts or whether they are necessary, as consensus was reached in June regarding the need to balance the budget.

SPD politician Joachim Poss

Poss objects to the 'unbalanced' distribution

With that being said, opposition politicians have severely criticized where the planned spending cuts are being made, which will make for continued debate over the next four days among parliamentarians in Berlin.

The current head of the Social Democrats' (SPD) parliamentary faction, Joachim Poss, said on Tuesday ahead of the budget debate the proposed cuts were "socially unbalanced." He added: "This is a budget proposal that will further divide our country. [The center-right government] is dividing our country."

The Social Democrats argue that social areas are bearing the brunt of the spending cuts, for instance unemployment and child benefits, and that the wealthy are being spared.

From 2010 to 2011, spending for social benefits will decrease from 54 to 50 percent of the total federal budget. The labor ministry is facing the largest cuts; it will have 10 percent less funds at its disposal in 2011 compared to this year.

Motivation for spending cuts

The head of the governing Free Democrats' (FDP) parliamentary faction, Birgit Homburger, responded to criticism on Monday by applauding the government's desire to rein in the budget.

A red pencil

The FDP says spending cuts are hard but necessary

She said that the children of Germany's future generations "will not be able to play on mountains of debt," adding that this was "our motivation for the spending cuts."

The FDP's budget expert, Otto Fricke, echoed Homburger's praise of the government's austerity package; however, he added that changes were possible with regard to the distribution of the cuts.

"We will consider any suggestions for improvement of the proposal, insofar as these are concrete alternatives," Fricke said in Berlin.

Tuesday's federal budget debate will be followed by discussions of the individual ministerial budgets. The Bundestag is scheduled to pass the overall 2011 budget in late November.

Author: Gabriel Borrud (AFP/dpa)
Editor: Rob Turner

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