In his first appearance before the newly-elected German parliament on Tuesday, Chancellor Schröder called on every citizen to ask what he or she can do to help the country prosper.
Chancellor Gerhard Schröder addresses the German parliament
In words clearly reminiscent of John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder appealed to every citizen to stop complaining about what doesn’t work for the country and ask instead "what each and every individual can contribute so that things do work."
The hour-long speech was the chancellor’s first appearance before the Bundestag since being re-elected five weeks ago. It was also a much-anticipated event; during coalition negotiations the governing coalition of Social Democrats and Greens had called for extensive reforms. Now it was up to the chancellor to present these reforms and convince the his public that they are necessary for Germany’s future prosperity.
Five central goals
Top on the list of plans for the next four years under Schröder are five central goals, which the chancellor referred to as the core of his administration’s policies:
Growth and renewal
Speaking to the members of parliament, Schröder vowed that he would make it his main priority to strengthen the "forces for growth and renewal" in the country. He defended the government’s much-criticized plans for hiking taxes and cutting subsidies as "balanced," saying the fiscal package would generate more funds for the government, and allow it to reach its goals of investing in the future, encouraging economic growth and reviving the labor market.
Schröder announced that with "reform and renewal also comes the re-evaluation of certain demands, rules and allocations embedded in the German welfare state," which have come to be accepted as given. Each and every citizen would be called upon to contribute his part in securing Germany’s future. For big corporations and high-end earners it means more cuts in subsidies, higher taxes and increased fees for health insurance and the pension plan.
Schröder referred to the coalition’s reform plans as a "partnership in responsibility." He said today governing is less about the "distribution of increasingly shortened resources and more about the distribution of chances." Under his administration, the chronically disadvantaged, such as families with several children and less affluent workers, would be in a better position than in previous years and profit more from a fairer allocation of government funds. Better and more extensive childcare as well as additional subsidies for house buying are two factors that would play a role here.
In terms of Germany’s foreign policy, Schröder reaffirmed his commitment to finding a peaceful solution to the Iraq conflict. "We will not participate in a military intervention in Iraq," he said. The main focus of his government would remain "an uncompromising policy of disarmament under international inspections."
Referring to the lingering crisis in German-American relations, Schröder said he would work on improving the situation. He stressed that the "strategic importance" of ties to the United States could not be underestimated. Despite differences of opinion on questions of economics and politics, the chancellor said Germany would always work with the U.S. to arrive at peaceful solutions. "Where they (differing opinions) exist, we will settle them in the spirit of friendly cooperation," he stated.
On Wednesday Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer arrives in the U.S. for meetings with Secretary of State, Colin Powell. The two are expected to discuss in depth German-American relations and the conflict in Iraq.
Over the course of the next few days, the Bundestag will debate the issues presented in the red-green coalition package. Until Thursday, each one of the subject areas will be discussed individually. The first subjects up for debate are foreign policy, national security and European politics. After that, the parliament will hear arguments on domestic affairs, legal issues, culture and family policy.
Debate over these issues is expected to be heated: Schröder’s coalition government does not enjoy a huge parliamentary majority. On the contrary, the red-green coalition has a three-seat lead over the conservative opposition.