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Germany

SPD and Unions Fail to Agree on Reforms

Germany's ruling Social Democrats failed to bridge differences over the government's reform plans with organized labor Monday. But both sides say they'll continue to talk.

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At loggerheads: Michael Sommer (left) and Gerhard Schröder

Immediately after Monday's meeting, SPD national party leader Franz Müntefering and the head of the Federation of German Trade Unions (DGB), Michael Sommer, confirmed that differences of opinion remain on the central points of the SPD's reform plans, known as Agenda 2010.

A point of particular concern for the unions is the SPD's plan to consolidate unemployment and social welfare payments starting in 2005 -- a plan the SPD says is not up for debate.

DGB's vice-president, Ursula Engelen-Kefer´, described the atmosphere during the meeting as "pretty agitated," adding that such hefty arguments are hardly a "walk in the park."

Despite the lack of progress in resolving what's become a very public dispute, both sides emphasized their willingness to keep the dialogue going. Sommer said Germany's problems could only be solved if the SPD and the unions work together.

The next meeting between the SPD and union representatives is planned for October. Until then, both sides say, they will be in constant contact.

Conflict should be less public

Klaus Uwe Benneter, who serves as the leader of the SPD's parliamentary group, said that Chancellor Gerhard Schröder used the meeting to make it clear that he doesn't approve of the way the unions are expressing their criticism.

According to Benneter, Schröder called for a less public display of discord and articulated his wish that by the next meeting, both sides would have a common approach to the problems facing them.

Unions missing opportunity

Pressure is growing on the unions from industry representatives to abandon their strategy of resistance.

"There's no alternative to the course that the government has set since March 2003," Hans Werner Busch, head of the employers' association for the metalworking industry, told the Berliner Zeitung newspaper. The unions' choice to go on confrontation course was robbing them of the opportunity to contribute to the reform process, he said.

The SPD and the unions did agree however, to refuse support to a new grouping of left-wing rebels, who plan to found a party to challenge the SPD. "We made clear that there will be no support in terms of infrastructure for any founding of a new party or similar group," Sommer said.

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