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Europe

German Press Review: Köhler Under Fire

German editorials on Monday commented on President Horst Köhler's remarks that have fueled tensions inside the country over the financial costs of reunification.

Der Neue Tag in Weiden warned that the debate should not be narrowed down to financial matters only. The paper wrote that new ideas such as education or child care, medical services or care for the elderly are needed in the sparsely populated regions in eastern Germany. Looking towards Spain or Scandinavia could help, according to the daily: There people had similar problems to solve, it concluded.

The Südkurier in Constance pointed out that the German president had only expressed what had long been a reality. The billions of euros worth of subsidies poured into east for its development wouldn't bridge the prosperity gap between the west and east of the country. Cities such as Cottbus and Rostock still have record unemployment rates. There was no trace of an upswing. So there was no question that it was legitimate to call for a reform of the subsidies for the east, the paper wrote and praised the president for his courage in making that point. But it added that his timing was off. His controversial and untimely comments came before two local elections and the paper feared that this debate would only strengthen the radical parties.

In Düsseldorf, the Rheinische Post wrote that the agitation in the east was largely over the simple truth expressed by Köhler. It noted that much of the angst was attributed to careless election campaigning. The indignity and outrage expressed only highlight the truth of Köhler’s comments, according to the paper. Permanent subsidies corrupt thinking, it noted. Those who received subsidies were like junkies – they could not imagine living without being funded by the state. But was that a good enough reason for Germany to invest in the east more than the Americans had into their entire global military presence, asked the paper and concluded that everyone knew that this couldn't continue.

Die Welt in Berlin wrote that Köhler after his election in May had promised to speak out on political and economic issues. The need for change in Germany had demanded this from the highest office holder of the country. Köhler has now proven this, opined the paper. But it was surprised over the angry reaction over Köhler’s comments from the political camps. It appeared as if the former East had waited for such a signal in order to raise a warning finger to point to the fact that the country was not unified, according to the paper. Such messages are not new and this was evidenced in the weekly demonstrations, wrote the daily, admonishing Germans to overcome the split in society. This was the central message of Köhler’s inaugural speech. The president has shown the need for honesty, the paper concluded. The Stuttgarter Nachrichten wrote that the president would have to explain himself. His comments on the economic disparities between the East and West raised questions about the country’s constitution. The paper said the issue was not equality but on how the country could be rearranged to help the weaker regions.