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Europe

German Press Review: Austerity Smarts

The austerity measures called for in Germany's 2004 budget falls under the sights of editorial sharpshooters in most major newspapers here on Friday.

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The German government wants to cut benefits to civil servants to save a few more of these.

On Thursday, German Finance Minister Hans Eichel unveiled the federal government's €251 billion ($287 billion) for 2004. The budget would still violate the European pact ensuring the stability of the euro, but it would bring it into line with the German constitution that requires that investments made by the German government must exceed deficit spending.

Still, the compromise still requires the elimination or reduction of benefits for government employees and cutting popular tax breaks. Many German newspapers opined that such cuts were expected but would be "unpopular."

It is clear that many will have to suffer, the Cologne tabloid Express observed, including people like commuters, home-buyers, civil servants and pensioners. That in itself is no longer surprising, but it is annoying, wrote the paper, that the finance minister didn’t come out with the truth any sooner. That’s not the best way to persuade people of the need for cuts in benefits that may be painful, but which are nevertheless unavoidable.

Bringing forward planned tax cuts without creating new debts, the Berlin-based Die Welt commented, ought to take the strain off private households. If that is the case, the government will have put together a package that is worth looking at -- a package, the paper added, the opposition should not try to stop.

The editors of the Stuttgarter Zeitung opined that it would certainly be the right move if the government were to take unpopular measures during difficult times. It is hard to explain to less well-off pensioners, the paper noted, why retired civil servants receive an entire month’s pay as a Christmas bonus. Questioning subsidies and tax privileges is also the right move, they wrote. Germany’s citizens, the paper concluded are surely prepared to accept cuts, but they want to see a sound plan -- which, the paper concluded, the current Berlin government does not have.

But, as the Mannheimer Morgen noted, if you take money away from commuters, home-builders, pensioners and civil servants as the government plans to do, you will have half the country up in arms.

Newspapers also devoted considerable column inches to the new agricultural policy deal struck among the EU's farms ministers this week.

The EU’s new agricultural policies, Munich’s TZ wrote, would improve the quality of our food. The paper praised the accord as the right consequence following a number of European food scandals, but noted that, while consumers shied away from certain foods when a scandal erupted, such an abstention was normally only short-lived. After a while, people always came back to mass-produced products. Which was understandable, the paper concluded, because organic products were just too expensive. That will change and, for once, the Munich exclaimed, we can say thanks to Brussels.