Social Democrat Leader Warns Against Too Many Reforms | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 29.12.2006
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Germany

Social Democrat Leader Warns Against Too Many Reforms

The chairman of Germany's Social Democratic Party, Kurt Beck, said that the painful social and economic reforms introduced by Chancellor Angela Merkel had hurt Germans badly and that people wouldn’t accept more.

It's not just Beck, several Germans too have protested against various new reforms

It's not just Beck, several Germans too have protested against various new reforms

Social Democratic (SPD) leader Kurt Beck appears bent on hitting the emergency brakes on plans for more sweeping changes in Germany.

Kurt Beck, Vorsitzender der SPD

Kurt Beck says enough is enough

Cuts in unemployment and welfare payments, a controversial health reform and higher sales taxes, he told the German daily newspaper Die Welt, had sorely tested the endurance levels of the population. Especially the cutbacks to long-cherished social benefits, he said, have made the weakest in society suffer the most.

But Beck’s "enough-is-enough" rhetoric has angered both Chancellor Angela Merkel and her conservatives, who claim much remains to be done to make Germany fit for the challenges of the 21st century, as well as business leaders.

Merkel says reform drive must continue

"We have to continue with structural reforms, both on the European as well as national level, if we want to stay internationally competitive," Merkel wrote in a guest editorial in German business daily Handelsblatt. "That's why work on necessary reform projects in Germany will continue unabated next year," she said, adding that "the biggest work still lies ahead of us."

"I’m astonished by his (Beck's) remarks," said Ronald Pofalla, general secretary of Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU). "Even more so as this government has only been in office for one year and there are three more years ahead of us. It’s not the time to just sit back and stop the crucial reform process."

Business leaders were more scathing in their criticism of Beck's comments.

"Those who describe reform policies as an unreasonable demand on citizens haven't understood what this is all about. Namely that it's about preparing our country for the future for the benefit of its citizens," Dieter Brucklacher, president of the German Engineering Federation (VDMA) told newspaper Die Welt. "Keeping this goal in mind, we're still at the beginning, not in any way at the end, of the necessary reform process."

Dirk Martin, chairman of the Federal Association of Young Entrepreneurs (BJU) said Beck's comments sent a totally wrong signal.

"Those who hit the emergency brake now, are doing a disservice to the future of our country," Martin said.

Sagging popularity

Observers believe Beck's blowing the whistle on reforms is due to the government's slumping popularity ratings. His Social Democrats, they say, have been unable to portray themselves as the champions of social justice in the conservative-led government. The result has been that many of the SPD's traditional working-class voters continue to shun the party.

With the SPD still trailing Merkel's CDU in the polls, Beck's statements are also seen as an early electioneering stunt in the party's campaign for regional elections over the next two years and for Kurt Beck’s own bid for the chancellorship in general elections in 2009.

The allegations are however denied by senior Social Democrats such as Johannes Kahrs.

"We are not seeking to slow down the pace of reforms," Kahrs said. "All we are aiming for are well-crafted reforms that people can understand and accept. After all it’s the conservatives who are currently trying to block necessary changes."

Problems on the right

A senior member of the Christian Democrat’s sister party in Bavaria, the Christian Social Union (CSU), announced on Thursday that the party would reject a health reform bill in the upper house of parliament representing Germany’s 16 federal states, the Bundesrat.

Gesundheitsreform Zahlersatz

The health care reform plan is under threat

The CSU argues the proposals would jeopardize private health insurance companies which mainly insure affluent Germans.

So far conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Social Democrat Vice-Chancellor Franz Müntefering have opted to stay out of the health-reform debate.

Apparently they are seeking to press ahead with a plan that foresees both implementing existing reforms and tackling new ones. The two are said to be on the same wavelength on most issues. But the going will be getting tougher for them as a minefield of special interests start letting their wishes known.

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