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Europe

German Press Review: The Boss and the Janitor Pay the Same

Although no single subject dominated the editorials in German papers on Wednesday, the dispute within the Christian Democrat Union over reforming the social system received a good deal of criticism.

After the Social Democrats put forward their platform for overhauling Germany’s behemoth social system and introduced the far-reaching Agenda 2010, the main opposition party, the Christian Democrat Union, has now introduced its answer to the suggested reforms. Newspapers have been mainly critical of the CDU-led commission under the direction of former German President Roman Herzog. The proposals which recommend that everyone pay the same health insurance premium, regardless of income, have been attacked as "unfair."

The Allgemeine Zeitung of Mainz described the policy as "technocratic and ice cold," and it wrote "you don't get the feeling with the Christian Democrats that this all has to do with people -- just a load of taxpayers who have to start realizing that they have to pay up for yesterday's political failures." The paper concluded, "That's not the way to win over voters."

The CDU reform plans have been roundly supported by the party leader, Angela Merkel, who immediately championed the Herzog Commission as the answer to the SPD Agenda 2010. However, support in the conservative party has not been unanimous, and two former CDU social affairs ministers, Norbert Blüm and Heiner Geissler have even come out criticizing the plan as untypical of Christian Democrat politics. The Nordsee-Zeitung of Bremerhaven focused on the party division and was indignant at the fact that two men who were responsible for the current mess are currently giving out advice "and pretty bad advice at that." The two former ministers, wrote the paper, were responsible for so overloading the insurance system that it was bound to fall apart. "That could have been forecast," it said, "since many independent experts warned about the risk at the time."

The Süddeutsche Zeitung pointed out that the Christian Democrats' Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU) are also opposed to the policy. In an unusual demonstration of support, the traditionally liberal paper expressed support for the conservative party. "The CSU won't support a policy," the Munich paper commented, "in which the boss and the janitor pay the same premium. The CSU has kept what the Christian Democrats have lost: a heart for social issues."

In spite of all Germany's national problems, a couple of papers did find space for an editorial on the decision by Turkey to send 10,000 troops to Iraq. One of them, the General-Anzeiger of Bonn, warned Turkey that it is ill-advised to go into Iraq without United Nations backing. "Turkish troops are not more loved than American troops," it observed. "The Turks may be Muslims, but they are seen as the puppets of the Americans." But the paper pointed out that the Turks feel they can't ignore unrest in a neighboring country, which could sink into chaos, or become a Shiite Islamic state like another of its neghbors, Iran. All the same, concluded the paper, "Turkey won't be able to prevent such developments as an occupying army without a UN mandate."

The Frankfurt Rundschau turned its editorial focus to the Frankfurt Book Fair and the featured country, Russia. There was a fear, wrote the paper, that the fair would restrict itself to presenting the official Russia loyal to the Kremlin. And indeed, the paper said, "the wide-ranging program has a gap where it should be dealing with the Soviet past. Russia wants to show itself off as a young democracy, and totalitarianism and the gulag aren't being discussed." The Frankfurt daily summed Russia’s current situation up: "The evidence of a democratic culture is how it deals with the crimes of its own past. [Russia] doesn't seem to have realized that yet."