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Europe

German Press Review: Losing Track of Ordinary Germans

The opposition Christian Democrats' plans for tax reform, the labor market and wage negotiations and their nomination of Horst Köhler as candidate for the German presidency dominated German opinion pages on Monday.

The opposition's plans to stimulate German growth failed to impress the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. It said the Christian Democrats were merely trying to distract attention from their inability in the past to put together an effective tax reform package. Their calls for a radical overhaul of the labor market were intended to cover up their own failings.

The Schwarzwälder Bote observed that creating jobs does indeed promote social justice. But to suggest that one only needs to curtail workers' rights in order to boost employment was far too simplistic. That wouldn't generate economic growth; It would just spark conflict. The southern German paper wrote that parts of the conservative opposition were now distancing themselves from the concerns of ordinary people, instead of putting forward convincing alternatives to government policy.

The Südwest Presse said the conservative opposition lacked the courage to push ahead with viable tax reforms and, for this reason, its proposals for deregulation of the labor market were all the more drastic. The paper then observed that Germany's social market economy, with its social emphasis, had served the country well for the last fifty years. Over the decades, trade unions had fought hard to protect workers from the might of entrepreneurs and large corporations. Yet, the best labor laws protecting working rights were of little use if they stopped jobs from being created. If you were looking for a job, wasn't it better to find one when the economy was picking up, than to still be on unemployment benefit when the economy was booming, the paper asked.

The Express from Cologne pointed out that the opposition wanted to suspend job protection rules for workers until they had been with their employers for four years. It would be an exaggeration, the paper commented, to maintain this would be a frontal attack on workers' rights. If you did have a job, you wouldn't lose job protection -- at least not until the distant time when the conservative proposals became law. And your colleague who was out of work could possibly find a new job in the meantime -- and enjoy job protection four years later.

Former International Monetary Fund head Horst Köhler, the Christian Democrats' candidate for German president, is likely to be elected since the opposition holds a slim majority in the assembly that will chose a successor to President Johannes Rau. The Main Post said a head of state who gets involved in interest rates, economic growth data or the value of the euro could give Germany the fresh impetus it needed. The window of opportunity for reforms that were essential if Germany were to meet the challenges of the future would only stay open for a few years. A courageous president who clamored impatiently for change could act as a catalyst for the painful process of transforming attitudes and ideas, it supposed.

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