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Europe

German Press Review: The New Face of the Bundesbank

Editorial writers on Thursday praise the nomination of Axel Weber as Germany's next Central Bank chief and give mixed reviews to a government minister's proposal to extend store opening hours.

Most editorials seem to agree that Axel Weber's nomination as the new Central Bank head has helped prevent a potentially dangerous display of political partisanship on the part of the ruling SPD-Green coalition and its finance minister, Hans Eichel.

The Frankfurter Rundschau called Weber, a professor from the University of Cologne, "a brilliant social scientist" and said he enjoys "an excellent reputation in economics circles." Two years ago he was called up to be one of the "five wise men," independent economists who advise the federal government. "Thus, he's not just a theorist, but has done practical research and knows about the real question of how changing interest rates affect the economy."

The Nürnberger Nachrichten compared Weber to other possible candidates, such as the bank's vice president, Jürgen Stark. The paper's editors pointed out that he was also touched by the scandal that brought down the bank's recently resigned leader, Ernst Welteke. Weber seems to the paper to be a man who gets praise from all sides.

Die Welt from Berlin wrote that with the choice of Weber, the damage from the scandal around Welteke will be less than had been feared. In fact, the paper wrote, the Central Bank could come out of the while affair "strengthened."

Only the financial daily Handelsblatt in Düsseldorf expressed alarm at the decision, saying the political elite in Germany is in a state of emergency: "They can't recruit one of their own for high offices." The paper lamented that, after the opposition conservatives proposed the largely unknown Horst Köhler for the position of federal president, now the ruling Social Democrats have nominated a politically inexperienced professor to head the Central Bank.

In a separate development that captivated editorialists on Thursday, German Economics Minister Wolfgang Clement has suggested a further liberalization of the country's store opening hours. Clement said the government should lift the restriction that most stores can't be open past 8 a.m., and that states should be left alone to decide whether shops can open on Sundays. Papers mostly applauded the idea, but some expressed skepticism that the move would have any beneficial economic effect.

Cologne's Express newspaper said it doesn't see why the state should tell a retailer when they can sell their goods and when they can't. Referring to the fact that stores in train stations and gas stations are already allowed to be open on Sundays, the paper said that there are so many exceptions, that the old rule has become out-of-date. It would make more sense, the paper wrote, for store owners to set their own opening hours. But even if the law is changed, Express doesn't foresee any dramatic change in the habits of German shoppers or that stores would then open their doors around the clock.

For its part, the Westdeutsche Zeitung praised the shopping example set by other countries, many of which already have 24-hour stores -- like the United States, where farmers happily go to Wal-Mart shops at 3 a.m. before going out to milk their cows. "Foreigners have long been shaking their heads at Germany's strict rules," the paper observed.

The Ostsee-Zeitung summed up a more critical argument, saying extended opening hours wouldn't provide much growth for the hare-paced economy. "Fewer and fewer people have a job," the paper noted, and more and more are earning less in real terms. "And those who do have enough income are more in savings-mode than spend-mode. People who have no money in their pocket don't go shopping," the paper quipped. It would make more sense, the paper concluded, if Germany got rid of its massive unemployment and fear of the future before it let its shops stay open longer.