German coalition backs more childcare

26th February 2007, Comments 0 comments

26 February 2007, Berlin (dpa) - Leading politicians from both sides of Germany's grand coalition government Sunday swung behind proposals to treble the number of daycare places for small children, but disagreed about how they should be financed. Leaders of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and her Social Democrat (SPD) coalition partners rejected criticism by a Catholic bishop that the plans were "hostile to children" and turned mothers into "birthing machines." Merkel backed the propos

26 February 2007

Berlin (dpa) - Leading politicians from both sides of Germany's grand coalition government Sunday swung behind proposals to treble the number of daycare places for small children, but disagreed about how they should be financed.

Leaders of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and her Social Democrat (SPD) coalition partners rejected criticism by a Catholic bishop that the plans were "hostile to children" and turned mothers into "birthing machines."

Merkel backed the proposals put forward by CDU Family Minister Ursula von der Leyen to treble the number of daycare places for children under three to 750,000 by 2013. The proposals include a pre- school year for four-to-five-year-olds.

"Mothers and fathers should have freedom of choice in raising their children, in as far as the state can facilitate this," Merkel told the Sunday edition of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

"Freedom of choice requires, however, that there is the possibility of choice."

But SPD proposals to finance the new places by withholding the next increase in the state's child allowance to parents and to trim tax allowances to childless couples, prompted criticism from the CDU.

Von der Leyen called the SPD proposals, which have yet to be presented formally, "unjust and deeply unsocial," as they would hit parents with older children as well as the childless.

Von der Leyen intends to finance the new places from funds freed up by the decline in the number of children. "By 2020, this will amount to 60-80 billion euros (78-104 billion dollars)," she said.

SPD parliamentary leader Peter Struck expressed confidence the coalition partners would agree on how to finance the places, pledging to assist Von der Leyen with implementing the proposal.

Struck lashed out at Augsburg Bishop Walter Mixa, whose "birthing machines" comment last week provoked widespread anger, calling his intervention "utterly inappropriate."

In her interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine, Merkel would not be drawn into the controversy over what was best for children.

"Families should decide for themselves. It is not up to the state to rule on whether childrearing outside the parental home or within the family is better for the child," she said.

The state could not compel couples to have children, "but the child-friendliness of our society in Germany can certainly be improved, from visiting a restaurant to going on holiday with children," she said.

Mixa was unrepentant, repeating his views that small children needed the one-on-one attention of their own parent.

Catholic clergy backed the bishop, some drawing negative comparisons with childcare in communist East Germany, where both parents were encouraged to work and childcare was widely available.

Merkel, who was raised in the communist east, rejected this. "That idea could only occur to someone who has absolutely no concept of daily life in East Germany," she said.

The chancellor, who has no children herself, sketched a bleak future for Germany without more children.

"A country in which so often children are lacking, will become less inquiring. It will not be able to pass on its experience. We need to be clear about the store of experience we would lose in a society of single people."

DPA

Subject: German news

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