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German Press Review: Opposition Stands for Bold Reforms

After focusing on Chancellor Schröder’s attempts to reform the country’s overburdened social system, Germany’s editorials have turned an eye to his conservative opposition, Angela Merkel and her plans.

This autumn will be crucial not only for German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, but also for opposition leader Angela Merkel from the Christian Democrats Union, wrote the Westdeutsche Zeitung from Düsseldorf. It commented that Merkel will have to decide, which way to go – whether to opt for direct confrontation with Schröder’s party of Social Democrats, or whether to join forces with the chancellor’s ruling coalition in initiating reforms. According to her keynote speech on Wednesday, she has decided to do the latter, the paper noted and pointed out that it was high time for her to make clear where she stands. Only if she demonstrates assertiveness now, the paper concluded, does she stand a chance of becoming the Christian Democrats’ candidate for chancellor in the 2006 general election.

"Angela Merkel is not a great orator," wrote the Financial Times Germany. But the paper was surprised to find that the party leader, who it described as having a reputation as the "grandmaster of fudge," showed a new political edge in her keynote speech. She came out and clearly backed the ideas of the "Herzog-Commission" which are the most radical plans for reform of the German social system. The CDU-initiated commission called for raising the retirement age in Germany to 67, for instance, and urged general cutbacks in social welfare subsidies, two areas where Schröder’s SPD has still not presented a united front.

Angela Merkel wasn’t at a loss for answers, Die Welt from Hamburg observed after Merkel’s speech to her party delegates on Wednesday. She addressed a wide range of issues from the current debate in Germany on whether or not Muslim teachers may wear their headscarves in school, to the gaping hole in the German pension fund to Germany’s role within the European Union. The newspaper described Merkel as seeming to know what she was talking about. It also called her reforms "a bold step on the eve of the Day of German Unity." The fact that she as a former East German presents herself as the political product of re-unification and at the same time commits herself to the most far-reaching suggestions in the current reform debate, signals a new self-confidence, the paper wrote. By dong this, Merkel has made one more suggestion, the Hamburg daily concluded; she suggested herself for the position of the next German chancellor.

German newspapers also commented extensively on the Day of German Unity on Oct. 3. Although the date is a public holiday, a recent survey found that many Germans don’t even know what it’s all about. The Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung lamented that many Germans have already forgotten what happened 13 years ago when the German Democratic Republic acceded to the Federal Republic of Germany. Or has this knowledge simply been superseded by the cost and effort tied to reunification, the paper pondered. "That would be fatal," it argued, "because it is an attitude like that which prevents the elimination of the last remnants of the wall in people’s minds."

"We Germans," the Dresdener Neueste Nachrichten wrote, "will have to continue to live without the one single historic event that shapes a national identity for all Germans alike." However, the daily argued, "the public holiday on October 3rd should at least give all Germans an opportunity to look at their common history, at the time of their division and at their responsibilities for the future."

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