Berlin Ditches Plans to Move Unity Day | Current Affairs | DW | 05.11.2004
  1. Inhalt
  2. Navigation
  3. Weitere Inhalte
  4. Metanavigation
  5. Suche
  6. Choose from 30 Languages

Current Affairs

Berlin Ditches Plans to Move Unity Day

Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has abandoned plans to abolish German Unity Day on the grounds the proposal lacked political support.

Germans won't have to forfeit a public holiday after all

Germans won't have to forfeit a public holiday after all

"Scrapping the Oct. 3 holiday is no longer being pursued," Social Democrat spokesman Lars Kühn said Friday.

The move was heavily criticized by the media, and the country's head of state Horst Köhler even wrote to Chancellor Gerhard Schröder asking him to reconsider the move.

Speaking in Brussels Friday, the chancellor regretfully withdrew the plan, citing lack of political support.

Loud opposition

The plan by German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and Finance Minister Hans Eichel to rid the country of one of its work holidays was met with loud opposition -- from within the government as well as political opponents.

The trouble started when the two Social Democrats proposed a plan to move the October 3 German Unity Day holiday -- one of up to 16 national holidays -- to a Sunday, thereby gaining an extra day of work.

Eichel introduced the plan as part of his new austerity measures, arguing it would potentially provide a 0.1 percent increase in GDP, and attendant tax revenue increases. Economics Minister Wolfgang Clement said the move would bring in additional income of €2 billion ($2.6 billion).

A question of soul?

But opponents to the idea retorted that to strike the national holiday was "unpatriotic," akin to attacking the soul of the nation, referring to the overriding historical importance of the division and reunification of East and West.

"I wonder about the soul of a nation whose government plans such a thing," Lothar de Maizere, East Germany's last prime minister, told German TV broadcaster ARD.

The situation heated up further German President Horst Köhler wrote a letter to Schröder in which he opposed the plan.

"Taking October 3 as a symbol for the reunification of Germany in peace and freedom is important for the future of our country, and should be retained," the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper quoted Köhler as writing. There could be better ways "to find an additional work day in order to take part in the consolidation of the country's finances."

Done deal?

But Schröder parried back with a letter to Köhler, according to mass-circulation daily Bild. He wrote that Unity Day is indeed very important, but added, "reunification was an extreme burden on our economy. Unity must be completed, and the number of holidays must be reduced."

He finished by saying he was open to meeting with Köhler to discuss better options.

Despite the raging opposition, Clement said that the plan "is not (just) an idea; it will be carried out." And SPD Chief Franz Müntefering backed him up, telling the press that even if the opposition refuses to go along with the plan, "then we will go it alone."

Indeed, Germany's Bundestag, the lower house of parliament, could make the change unilaterally. The holiday was created by the German Unity Pact of 1990, a federal law, and amending it would not require ratification by the Bundesrat, the upper house of parliament which represents the states.

Opposition -- from both sides

But just because the government can pull it off, doesn't mean people have to like it -- not even members of the ruling party. Bundestag President Wolfgang Thierse, Schleswig-Holstein Premier Heide Simonis, Bremen Mayor Henning Scherf, Green party parliamentary group leader Krista Sager -- all have openly criticized the plan.

And the opposition, of course, has been anything but quiet. CDU Secretary General Laurenz Meyer called the suggestion "unpatriotic." The idea shows that "this government does not have a positive attitude toward German unity and to the emotions that are tied to the event," Meyer told the Kieler Nachrichten newspaper.

The leaders of key opposition parties CDU and CSU, Angela Merkel and Edmund Stoiber, accused the government of "forgetting history."

In turn, SPD Secretary General Klaus Uwe Benneter retorted, "It was the policies made under the leadership of SPD leader Willy Brandt that made reunification possible."

Economists were less divided over the issue, since for the most part they dismissed the move as being likely to have little effect.

Germany already has up to 16 public holidays a year, depending on the state, the most of any European nation. Britain has nine.

DW recommends

  • Date 05.11.2004
  • Author DW staff (jen/jp)
  • Related Subjects Germany
  • Print Print this page
  • Permalink
  • Date 05.11.2004
  • Author DW staff (jen/jp)
  • Related Subjects Germany
  • Print Print this page
  • Permalink