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Opposition To Target German Government

The conservative opposition parties have decided to go ahead with a committee investigating what they are calling electoral fraud regarding the state of Germany's economy


Economics Minister Clement (left) and Finance Minister Eichel need to get their sums right.

Despite dissent within their own ranks, the opposition conservative parties in Germany have agreed to set up a parliamentary committee investigating alleged election fraud.

A majority of the Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union parliamentary groups voted in favor of launching official proceedings although a number of parliamentarians voiced concern that the committee could be viewed merely as an electioneering instrument.

The committee's main job will be to investigate what the conservatives are gleefully calling the government's "broken promises" on tax and spending. It will want to establish exactly when Finance Minister Hans Eichel of the Social Democrats knew that Germany's budget deficit would break the 3 percent barrier enshrined in the Stability and Growth pact of the eurozone.

CDU and CSU are accusing the government of Social Democrats and Greens of knowingly misleading voters about the state of the country's finances. They say the government knew of the rising deficit and a massive shortfall in tax revenue before the September election and kept quiet to avoid defeat at the polls.

"Fairness Pact"

While Social Democrats and Greens have attacked the opposition's plans, the CDU's designated committee chairman, Peter Altmeier, said he was willing to offer the government a "fairness pact."

If the government was prepared to cooperate, he said, the opposition would make sure its work was done "fairly, swiftly and without personal defamation." Leading politicians, including Eichel and Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, could be called upon to testify.

10-point plan

With parliament this week debating next year's budget, the CDU has put forward its own 10-point plan for more employment and growth in Germany. The blueprint includes a range of proposals making limited jobs and the so-called mini jobs more attractive. The labor market, the paper says, must be made less bureaucratic. The CDU estimates that its proposals could lead to the creation of 250,000 jobs within one year.

The first day of the budgetary debate was characterized by a heated exchange between the government and the opposition with both sides accusing the other of deceiving the electorate. Eichel defended his financial policies arguing that interest debt payments were considerably lower for this year and next than three years ago. Eichel said this was a sign that his "policy of consolidating the state's finances was a success."

However, he admitted that unemployment in Germany would rise above the four-million mark this winter.

Friedrich Merz, the CDU parliamentary group's spokesman for budgetary and financial affairs, once again accused the government of deceiving voters about tax revenue forecasts. The government, he said, knew of the likely shortfall well before the September general election.

Schröder takes initiative

Haushaltsdebatte im Bundestag - Gerhard Schröder

Chancellor Gerhard Schröder

Meanwhile, Chancellor Schröder, who has been keeping a low profile over the past weeks, has decided to go on the offensive. He is set to use Wednesday's traditional budgetary speech to outline the country's problems and possible solutions.

His change of stance comes after numerous Social Democratic deputies complained that the government had failed to send out a coherent and concise message to voters on the state of Germany's economy.

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