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Germany

Germany's President Calls for More Reforms in Key Speech

In his third annual Berlin Speech, German President Horst Koehler said the country could not afford complacency. Instead, he called for more major changes to Germany's social-welfare, education and electoral systems.

Horst Köhler in front of a backdrop reading Berlin Speech

Polls suggest most Germans think Koehler is doing a good job

In his speech, which was held at his official residence, Bellevue Castle, in the capital, German President Horst Koehler said Germany had made considerable progress, including putting some 1.6 million people back to work.

That, he said, was thanks to the Agenda 2010 reform program, essentially a set of cuts to Germany's social-welfare system, initiated by ex-Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

But Koehler also said Germany required an Agenda 2020 -- a further package of reforms to encourage the jobless back into the workplace and keep up the positive momentum.

Political party posters in front of Bundestag

Longer terms in office, Koehler said, would check constant campaigning

"A lot more employment, indeed total employment, is possible, if we understand the conditions for it and our opportunities, and act accordingly," Koehler said.

In perhaps his most daring suggestion, the President also came out in favor of extending the period in office to which parliamentarians are elected.

"To combat the permanent electioneering in this country, the legislative period of the German Bundestag could be extended to five years," Koehler said.

Bundestag (upper house of parliament) representatives are currently elected to four-year terms.

Tax cuts and education

Taxpayer lobbyist bangs a gong in protest

The German Taypayer's Association will like Koehler's ideas of taxes

The German presidency is a largely symbolic office without much real political power. But the President's recommendations on major policy issues do carry significant weight.

Koehler is a former head of the International Monetary Fund, and his financial background was in evidence, as he called for tax cuts and reduction of payments into the social-benefits system for the middle class.

But Koehler also stressed the themes of social integration and education.

"Germany needs a climate of enthusiasm and recognition for education," he said. "It should be a country in which education is met with respect, and efforts to become educated, with acknowledgement and assistance."

Ukrainian immigrant in Germany

Koehler called for both greater social integration and higher numbers of educated immigrants

He also voiced support for more immigration.

"Many Western democracies choose their immigrants so intelligently that they are more educated than the average native," Koehler said. "The point is to win over talented foreigners instead of simply tolerating them," he said.

The president also returned to a theme he has addressed in the past: soaring executive pay compared with stagnating pay packets for most workers.

Managers should set an example, Koehler said, adding: "I believe a change of heart is in progress here, and this is a good thing."

Koehler has announced his intention to run for a second term in office, and the German Federal Assembly will vote on his candidacy in May 2009.

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