In the face of unabated public protest against welfare reforms, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has gone over to the offensive by saying that any further watering down of his reform package was out of the question.
You better believe me!
Schröder agreed that some mistakes had been made in communicating the merging of social and welfare benefits as of next year, but added that there was no alternative to this measure in order to bring the long-term jobless back into employment.
The chancellor made it clear that the planned cuts in benefits for the long-term unemployed starting in 2005 were coupled with what he hoped would be effective measures to bring those affected back into employment.
Billions of euros, he said, had been allocated with a view to streamlining job placement procedures and providing state-financed incentives for people to take up jobs in the low-wage sector. Schröder added that he would not bow to street protests that had flared up in towns across Germany over the past few weeks.
"The measures we agreed on are necessary if we want to ensure Germany’s competitiveness in the world market and the country’s social safety standards," he said. "We’re not aiming to dismantle our welfare state -- on the contrary, we aim to ensure its viability."
The chancellor added that he realized the reforms had stirred fears among a large proportion of the population.
Thousands have participated in demonstrations against the reforms
"The large-scale street protests are an expression of this," he said. "But everyone who’s willing to familiarize themselves with the details of our reforms will have to realize in the end that there’s no alternative to our agenda and that no one will be left by the wayside.”
Criticizing the opposition
Schröder criticized those opposition conservatives who had joined public protest actions against the overhaul of the social system despite the fact that they themselves had given their consent to it in a parliamentary arbitration committee.
He accused them of taking a political gamble, saying that they should know better what’s good for the country and what’s not.
Schröder said his cabinet members would intensify their efforts to communicate the reforms better to the public in the coming months. He also emphasized that there was no more leeway to soften the planned reforms.
Concerns about Middle East peace process
Talking to the press in Berlin, the German chancellor also briefly dealt with a number of foreign policy issues.
He expressed concern about the current situation in the Middle East, particularly about the Israeli prime minister’s decision to allow the construction of 1,000 new homes in Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
A section of the so-called security fence Israel is erecting along the border with Palestinian territory
"The government sticks to its position that the road map for peace has to be adhered to as envisaged by the quartet comprising the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and Russia," he said, adding that it has to be implemented despite the current difficulties.
"Every new obstacle that’s created is of course counter-productive and will be addressed by us as such,” he said.
Schröder confirmed that German experts would go ahead in training Iraqi police in the United Arab Emirates as planned.
He announced that the prospects of bilateral economic cooperation would be discussed at length during a scheduled meeting between himself and Iraqi leaders in the German capital in mid-September.