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Europe

German Press Review: Labor Pains

German papers on Thursday criticize a recommendation to increase the country’s working week to 50 hours. They also attack the government for a report revealing it has spent "luxuriously" in hard times.

Germany's financial papers largely panned the federal government’s regulation of the labor market.

The Financial Times Deutschland from Hamburg is not impressed with requiring extended working hours. They "won't pull more people into the workforce in a country with an aging population," the paper wrote, "because such groups as women with children, the elderly, and the long-term unemployed need more flexibility -- for example part-time work. Mothers have to stay longer at home than a 50-hour week allows," the paper pointed out. "And for a 67-year-old, even 35 hours per week could be too much," its editors opined. The paper recommended that "more flexibility in employment models be combined with more possibilities for companies to react smoothly to their needs."

The Handelsblatt from Dusseldorf agreed that "changes have to be made at the company level, and the accent must be on more flexible, and not simply longer, work hours." The editors added that the biggest problem was "the huge gap between gross income, and net income which has only slowly been increasing" because of high taxes.

Other papers were skeptical about government plans to require unemployed people to take almost any job available or face the elimination of unemployment benefits.

The Lübecker Nachrichten commented: "The principle is right -- you can and should require the unemployed to take reasonable work. But to make a worker take the lowest kind of work -- it makes them feel like they aren't much better than the dirt they're supposed to clean up."

And the Neues Deutschland from Berlin asked, rhetorically, "What will we do when all the cheap part-time jobs are taken up by people who once worked full-time?"

Meanwhile, the mass-circulation Bild from Hamburg pointed the finger at Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who has claimed he has a "master plan" to tackle unemployment. The paper asked: "What's behind this plan? Is it just nothing but words? There's too much banging of drums and not enough action." The paper’s editors suggested government members should spend their vacations mixing with ordinary people. "Then they would certainly learn a little bit about how to make a master plan for Germany," they concluded.

Another issue that got its share of column inches on Thursday was a report by the Federal Audit Court accusing the federal government of "lavish" spending at a time when the country is running a massive deficit and economic growth is slow at best. In a further criticism, the Audit Court made specific recommendations for an additional €2 billion in savings the government could find. It also criticized the government for the sale of part of its stakes in Deutsche Post, the mail monopoly, and Deutsche Telekom to plug holes in the budget. Instead, the Audit Court’s head suggested, the proceeds should go towards paying off debt.

The Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger lashed out at the government for wasting tax money. "Normally, the Federal Audit Court holds back on any political criticism. "That is a sign of how serious the situation has become," the paper opined.

The editors of Die Welt were also incensed at the amount of government waste of tax money. The thing that makes the paper "most angry is the nonchalant generosity with which the government has been wasting money over the last few years... it has forgotten, that its power is only borrowed" in a democracy. A lot of the government waste is "not just because of an old bureaucratic state," the editors opined, "but occurs when ministries are modernized." The paper found it "incomprehensible that the Transport Ministry can give out billions for the building of railways, without any quality control." But unfortunately, the paper concluded, "those responsible don't have to worry -- they've already survived countless other bad reports from the Federal Audit Court, and they'll survive this one."

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