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Europe

German Press Review: The Buck Stops Here

The health reforms agreed by both the government and the opposition dominated much of the German press, although many editorials were less than complimentary. Others looked at the resolved power struggle at IG Metall.

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The German government and the conservative opposition have reached an agreement on reforming the country's debt-ridden health care system after weeks of negotiations. The goal of the reforms is to bring mandatory health insurance premiums, which total an average of 14.4 percent of an individual's monthly salary, down about 13 percent.

Premiums may come down, but as the Süddeutsche Zeitung in Munich explained, patients will have to pay more for a visit to the doctor's surgery, for prescriptions, for a stay in hospital and for dental work. There is some doubt, the paper said, whether all this additional money entering the health system will be spent wisely. After all the health system itself, with all its inefficiencies, will remain unchanged.

The Neue Westfälische was rather more direct. "This scheme hatched by health care experts from the government and opposition," it said, "doesn't deserve the name reform." The old structures have been left intact. Social Democrat health minister Ulla Schmidt and her conservative predecessor Horst Seehofer have "capitulated in the face of pressure from the doctors, pharmaceutical industry and the hospitals," the paper stated.

Die Welt also took up the point that the present health care system is inefficient and in need of more drastic reform. More competition between those on the supply side of medical care was required, the paper said. Only then would the health insurance companies be able to offer better service at more competitive rates.

The leader of Germany's IG Metall engineering workers' union resigned on Monday. Klaus Zwickel's departure came after weeks of infighting in the upper echelons of the union that followed a disastrous strike it called in eastern Germany. The Ostsee Zeitung, published in the eastern German city of Rostock, noted that Zwickel was due to retire in October anyway and doubted whether his premature departure would reassure troubled union members. The paper said that a new beginning needed new faces. Moreover, the industry is in the throes of structural change and union membership is declining. For these reasons, IG Metall needs to shift its focus to its broader responsibilities to the whole of German society.

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung explained that Klaus Zwickel had simply given in, taking the consequences of his numerous failed attempts to stop deputy Jürgen Peters from succeeding him. But his resignation came too late, the FAZ wrote. He should have stepped down in April when the union's executive committee refused to accept his chosen candidate, Berthold Huber as his successor. But his departure on Monday merely put the seal on the disintegration of IG Metall. The dispute had damaged the organization badly, but it hadn't touched the one it was supposed to harm, namely Jürgen Peters himself. Instead, Peters had emerged stronger than ever, the paper said, and he will probably get to become head of the union much earlier than had been expected.