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Germany

Germany in Brief

German politician says there should be clear mention of God in EU constitution; cabinet approves sweeping health care reforms; Indian premier faces criticism in Berlin over India's minorities and more.

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Pope John Paul II receives CDU chairwoman Angela Merkel at the Vatican

Politician for explicit mention of God in EU constitution

Chairwoman of the German opposition Christian Democratic Party (CDU) Angela Merkel said on Tuesday that there should be "mention of God in the European Union constitution" after meeting with Pope John Paul II in Rome during a one-day visit. The conservative politician said that Europe should codify its Christian ties without however "discriminating against any other religion." Her remarks add to the debate about whether the constitution for the EU should contain any specific reference to religion. The Roman Catholic Church has been campaigning to have Christianity mentioned explicitly in the constitution. But its hopes were dashed on Wednesday when the draft preamble was released and referred only to the "cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe" and steered clear of any allusions to God or Christianity. two churches in Germany this week.

Cabinet approves health care reforms

Germany’s cabinet approved plans for reforming the ailing health care system. The reforms are aimed at capping spiraling healthcare costs, which currently run at an estimated €13 billion ($15.3 billion). "Germany has the third most expensive health care system in the world after the U.S. and Switzerland, but the quality is only mediocre," Health Minister Ulla Schmidt said on Wednesday. "That’s why the state health care system must be modernized and changed thoroughly." Proposed changes to the deficit-hit system include higher costs to patients for prescription drugs and a tax hike of €1 per pack of cigarettes. The government hopes to reduce health care contributions to below 13 percent of a worker’s gross pay from the current 14.4 percent. Germany’s lower house of parliament is likely to vote on the reforms in the first week of July.

Schüttler lobes into third round at French Open

Germany’s Rainer Schüttler made it to the third round of the French Open tennis championships for the first time after defeating Frenchman Jean-Rene Lisnard 4:6, 6:2, 6:4, 6:0 on Wednesday. 26-year-old Schüttler, currently Germany’s hope on the international tennis circuit, said he was well prepared for the third round. "I’m fit for the third round, no matter who I’m playing against," he said. Schüttler came close to his first Grand Slam title ever in January when he made it to the finals of the Australian Open and became the second German to reach the men’s final in the 98-history of the tournament. However, Schüttler, who faced American Andre Agassi, lost tamely in straight sets.

German chancellor lauds Indian initiative on Kashmir

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder on Wednesday praised the recent Indian initiative to solve the Kashmir conflict, which includes resuming diplomatic links. "I think this is the way, which all should follow," Schröder said after talks with Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in Berlin. The two leaders also agreed to strengthen economic relations and to cooperate closely in the field of wind and solar energy. But the Indian prime minister also faced criticism about the fate of minorities in India from Amnesty International. General Secretary of the German branch Barbara Lochbihler said religious minorities, particularly Muslims, were increasingly being attacked in India and new tightened security laws were being misused to persecute people who dared oppose the nationalist government.

Former German capital to get face-lift

The former German capital Bonn is set to regain some of its lost glory when the United Nations moves into empty parliamentary buildings along the Rhine river. The German cabinet decided on Wednesday that it would refurbish the Lange Eugen building and the neighboring eight-storied Alte Bundeshaus building at a cost of €65 million and hand it over to the U.N. for "permanent use". Initiated by German Environment Minister Jürgen Trittin, the plan foresees transforming the Lange Eugen building into a "green house" in accordance with latest ecological standards. The building will house the U.N.’s climate office that coordinates the worldwide fight against global warming. City authorities are hoping the high-profile addition will boost Bonn’s international image, which suffered after the capital was officially moved to Berlin in 1999. The buildings are expected to be ready by 2005.