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Europe

The Tinkering Chancellor

Gerhard Schröder tames his party by threatening to resign if it refuses to back his plan to kickstart the German economy. But editorialists warn he has failed to convince people of the utility of his plan.

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One thing Chancellor Gerhard Schröder is right about is that his position is at stake. If he can't even get his own party to back him on difficult reforms in Germany's social system and labor market to spur economic growth, then he must go -- along with the Social Democrats and Greens who share power in parliament. That's the opinion of the conservative Berlin daily Die Welt. The paper sees Schröder's "Agenda 2010" as a step in the right direction, but comments that given the scale of Germany's problems, he's just tinkering and not offering any real solutions. The plan includes cuts in jobless benefits and measures that will make it easier to fire employees. The Social Democratic Party executive approved the plan by 28 votes to four, with four abstentions. It now faces a vote before the entire Social Democratic Party.

Schröder made it clear on Monday that the vote was about more than the reforms -- it was about power, his leadership and his ability to govern, writes the Stuttgarter Zeitung.

The Chancellor put a gun to the head of his party, writes Cologne's Express. The paper also asked: What's a decision worth that's made under that kind of pressure? It's not going to convince the critics to abandon their criticism.

Then again, according to the Frankfurter Neue Presse, preparing the ground so a decision becomes a logical conclusion is not Schröder's forte. The paper accuses him of dodging serious debate on the future of the German welfare state. He can't govern without continually resorting to votes of confidence, it writes. And anyone who has to keep falling back on the weight of his own authority in order to get people to do what he wants is not a good boss.

Others see the vote less negatively. The Financial Times Deutschland's editors believe the strategy will work for Schröder. The left wing of his party is too weak to oppose him, and they haven't got any alternatives of their own to present. But the paper also concludes that the chancellor has succeeded only in silencing his critics, not convincing them, and it adds that he's also failed to convince the public. Instead of presenting the arguments in favor of Agenda 2010, it writes, he's fobbed people off by insisting that there is no other way. They're still in the dark as to the reasons why these reforms are necessary. The paper thinks these reasons should have been simple enough to convey -- after all, it's really all about saving the welfare state. Without fundamental reforms, the system is in danger of disappearing altogether.

Berlin's left-leaning taz offers a different solution: Reintroduce property taxes in Germany, which were dropped in 1996. That move bring in nearly one and a half times as much as the proposed cuts in unemployment benefit.

Meanwhile, Munich's conservative Abendzeitung attacks what it sees as the kind of over-generous socialism that takes from the rich to give to the poor. The biggest social injustice is the current mass unemployment, it says, and whoever blocks reforms in this sector is driving our state and society into ruin.