Discussions over the 2011 budget stir up a heated debate in the German parliament – with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government attacked for being in the pockets of big business.
Merkel defended the actions of the coalition government
Chancellor Angela Merkel's government has been attacked for caring too much about the interests of corporations during the opening day of debates over the 2011 budget.
Wednesday's debate in the Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament, was a chance for opposition politicians to air their grievances over the actions of the government over the past 12 months.
Chairman of the main opposition party, the Social Democrats (SPD), Sigmar Gabriel launched an attack on Merkel, calling her "the chancellor of the corporations."
Sigmar Gabriel led a volley of attacks on Merkel's record
SPD on the attack
Gabriel said Germany was now in the pockets of big business and that anyone without lobbyists to represent them was "being left behind."
He labeled the draft budget for 2011 unjust, saying that it did not deal with the issue of seeking redress in the financial sector for the crisis of two years ago.
"Some are living the high life and gamble the whole world away, while others work hard, get less and less and will now pay the price," Gabriel said in his address to parliament.
He called for the introduction of a financial transaction tax as he argued the markets "have not paid one cent to settle the debts of the financial crisis."
The opposition has vowed to do all it can to block the lifespan extension of nuclear power plants
The critique of Merkel's government was joined by other opposition parties in the parliament.
Parliamentary leader of the Left party faction, Gregor Gysi, attacked Merkel, saying: "She is the chancellor of the bank lobbyists, the pharmaceutical lobbyists, the private health insurance companies, and now the nuclear lobbyists."
The government's recently announced plans for extending the lifespan of nuclear power plants are likely to be one of the more controversial elements of the budget debates.
The opposition SPD and the Greens have vowed to use all their power to try and block the plans to extend nuclear power plants in Germany by between eight and 14 years.
'Reasons for confidence'
In response, Angela Merkel said that her government had secured the financial security of the country and that because of the Christian Democrat (CDU) and Free Democrat (FDP) coalition, there were "reasons for confidence."
"Today there is an engine of growth in Germany," she said.
In response to the attacks on her record, the Chancellor pointed to the drop in unemployment since she took over power.
"Five years ago, unemployment stood at nearly five million. Today it is perhaps just under three million."
Merkel was supported by Birgit Homburger, the parliamentary leader of the FDP coalition partner. Homburger said the draft budget for 2011 was "socially balanced."
The total federal expenditure for 2011 is estimated at 307.4 billion euros ($400 billion) and the level of the deficit at 57.5 billion euros ($74.7 billion).
The budget talks are due to last four days.
Author: Catherine Bolsover
Editor: Susan Houlton