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Europe

German Press Review: Less Reform Talk, More Reform Action

Many editorials in the German press on Thursday commented on the outcome of the German parliament debate over the 2004 budget, while others remained fixated on Germany’s clash with the European Commission this week.

Imagine that the German government’s general debate over the 2004 budget was a theater play. Die Welt did and came up with the critique that it had hardly ever seen anything so boring. The paper added that it wasn’t so much the actors involved, but the play itself. It lamented that the most important debate of all, the Agenda 2010 reforms, wasn’t even being played on the democratic stage but in the junk-closet of the republic. The paper expected bad reviews all round.

The Stuttgarter Nachrichten noted that, during the budget debate, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder tested-out a new variation of his strategy. It wasn’t his normal, take-it-or-leave-it method, the paper observed, but something more refined: Patriotism. But whatever technique he uses, it needs to accomplish the same goal, the paper cautioned. What Germany’s economy doesn’t need right now, according to the Stuttgarter, is political blocks, continuing discussions and all out refusal.

The Lübecker Nachrichten pointed out that, on one hand, the Conservative opposition continues to call for budget discipline. The CDU applauded the European Commission’s attempt to make Germany save more, which was overruled on Tuesday by the EU’s finance ministers. But on the other hand, the paper observed, the CDU is supporting this deficit policy by refusing to dismantle Germany’s massive subsidies – for now anyway. According to the Lübecker, this waffling has obvious reasons -- the CDU wants to be on top when the reforms come through into the upper house, which it dominates. The paper commented that, in its opinion, it is politically legitimate enough to want the blame for the unpopular reforms to fall into the lap of the government. But it added it’s time for this tactical political game to come to an end.

The Neue Ruhr/Neue Rhein Zeitung explained that, in its view, the government has a choice. It can either pompously choose to go ahead with tax cuts, or it can abide by the Euro Stability Pact. But, the paper wrote, a decision has already been made: more growth which spells tax cuts. However, with the conservative opposition controlling the upper house in Berlin, it still remains to be seen whether Germany’s snub to the European Commission will pay off. Chancellor Schröder might have to make more concessions to the opposition than he likes in order to get his reforms passed, the paper warned.

Amid all the talk about Germany being let off the hook by the European Commission, the business daily Handelsblatt warned that it would be foolish to lose sight of the fact that in the next two years Germany will lower the European Union economic average with its deficit. Many think Germany should try to get its economy going again, but the paper pointed out that is still a long way off. What Germany needs, asserted the paper, is the desire to be at the top of the economic heap again.