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Test Vote Shows Majority Labor Reforms

After tweaking key labor market reforms, Germany’s center-left coalition on Tuesday succeeded in building the support of a majority for this Friday's historic parliament vote.

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Rebel MPs have made Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s seat uncomfortable of late.

A day after reaching a compromise with the Greens on a contentious labor reform bill to be voted on in parliament on Friday, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder managed to pull in line rebels within the coalition’s ranks on Tuesday.

In a test vote, parliamentarians from Schröder’s party, the Social Democrats, unanimously supported the reforms. Only a single possible rebel remains in the Green Party, virtually assuring the bill's passage with a so-called "chancellor's majority" of the governing coalition.

"All of these concessions mark significant improvements, and move the law in the direction we wanted it to go," said Sigrid Skarpelis-Sperk, a Social Democrat who along with five colleagues had threatened to vote against the reform measure.

The first signs the rebels would toe the government’s line on the controversial reforms emerged on Monday.

SPD rebel Klaus Barthel told German ZDF television on Tuesday morning that the "changes were decisive" in determining left-wing support for the labor market changes, but he still refused to commit himself to voting for them on Friday.

Approval by the Green and SPD parliamentarians is crucial for Schröder who needs almost every voice in his governing coalition's thin majority in the parliament for the bill to pass.

A negative vote would have spelled political disaster for Schröder, who has pegged his political future on his ambitious Agenda 2010 reform plan. He has said his government will collapse if his coalition does not back his reforms.

Critics of the labor market bill have been arguing for weeks now that it reneges on the party's social democratic roots.

In particular, the parliamentarians were concerned with stipulations in the bill that they believe make jobless Germans to stoop too low in order to receive unemployment benefits. The controversial plan would have forced the unemployed to take jobs offered to them. But Schröder sought on Monday to assuage those concerns.

Compromises appease renegades

Under the new agreement, the unemployed won't be forced to take a job that pays below the minimum wage.

"We don't want wage-dumping," said Klaus Brandner, the labor market expert for the SPD parliamentary group.

The second major concession reached Monday was that unemployed workers past the age of 60 would make it easier to receive unemployment benefits before being forced to tap their own private savings.

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