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German Press Review: Do We Need a Minimum Wage?

Monday's editorial pages weighed in on the debate about whether Germany should institute a minimum wage and the controversy surrounding Germany's equestrian team, which lost two medals to appeals.

The Süddeutsche Zeitung told its readers on its front page that the purpose of the minimum wage is to entice the trade unions into supporting the controversial Hartz IV welfare reform for the long-term unemployed. The paper then took the proposal by Franz Müntefering, head of the ruling Social Democratic Party, as an opportunity to examine the plight of eastern Germany, where unemployment is especially high. It opened a leading article with the words "Are eastern Germans second-class citizens?" The Süddeutsche answered its own question and wrote that the two halves of the country are beginning to drift even farther apart under the pressure of the reforms. Protests and demonstrations against Hartz IV are quite legitimate -- especially in eastern Germany, where citizens were forced to refrain from any sort of protest for years on end. The paper concluded with what it evidently regarded as the key issue: "What is the point of the government piling the pressure on the unemployed, when there simply isn't enough work to go round in many parts of the country?"

The Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung tackled the proposal for a minimum wage head on. Its verdict: It's not a very realistic idea. First, because it would mean interfering with free collective bargaining, which would annoy the trade unions. They would quite rightly argue that local union branches and employers know far better than anybody else which wage levels are appropriate in their part of the country. Second, the conservative opposition, as a firm supporter of deregulation, is going to balk at any hint of state intervention. In addition, the impact of a minimum wage is extremely difficult to predict. It could indeed increase the purchasing power of those who have jobs, but the effect on the number of people in work is less certain, the paper wrote.

The Badische Zeitung said Germany's trade unions are divided over the minimum wage. The engineering workers union IG Metall has rejected it outright, fearing that it will weaken the system of free collective bargaining. But the catering union came out in favor. Its members work largely for small businesses -- which is also one of the reasons their union is not nearly as strong as IG Metall. The state, the daily commented, cannot be responsible for everything and certainly not for setting wage levels. That is the responsibility of the trade unions -- and the employers.

Many German papers also found space for the brawl at the Olympics over equestrian gold, silver and bronze that was settled at the Court of Arbitration on Saturday, three days after the three-day event finished. German Bettina Hoy lost two gold medals after a challenge from France, Britain and the United States.

The Nordwest Zeitung in Oldenburg remarked that the debate has nothing to do with fairness. The histrionics underline the dilemma facing contemporary sport, whose rules are becoming increasingly complicated. Seen legally, Saturday's decision may be water-tight. It does, however, nothing to promote integrity or honesty in sport, the paper opined.

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