Merkel urges Germans to 'dare to allow freedom'

30th November 2005, Comments 0 comments

30 November 2005, BERLIN - Chancellor Angela Merkel called on Germans to have the courage to allow greater freedom to ensure faster economic growth, in outlining the policies of her new broad-based coalition government to parliament Wednesday.

30 November 2005

BERLIN - Chancellor Angela Merkel called on Germans to have the courage to allow greater freedom to ensure faster economic growth, in outlining the policies of her new broad-based coalition government to parliament Wednesday.

"Let's dare to allow greater freedom, let's release the brakes on growth," Merkel told the Bundestag in her first major policy address since the new centre-left government was sworn in last week.

Merkel sketched out a hi-tech future for Germany on the basis of improved education and more investment in research and development.

Germany's first woman chancellor pointed to the economic problems facing the country, including unemployment at 11 per cent.

Economic growth had been lagging for years, debts had risen to "terrifying heights" and progress in the formerly communist east of the country had come to a halt, she said in a 90-minute speech.

"Let us stop the well-established rituals, the knee-jerk outrage, if we want to change things," she said.

She expressed thanks to her predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder, for his reform policies, saying he had "opened the door to restructuring our social systems for the new era".

Merkel pledged to help the entrepreneurial middle class through reform to business taxes to make the "Mittelstand" - long the motor of Germany's export sector - more competitive.

And she said the costs of government bureaucracy would be assessed properly and policies implemented to cut red tape.

Merkel pledged her coalition, which combines the two major groups, the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats, would seek to re-order Germany's federal system to end logjam in government.

Pointing to studies showing that German education is lagging its competitors, she said: "We want to lead our schools and universities back to the top."

The government aimed to see Germany among the "top three" in Europe within a decade, Merkel said. "Nobody can stop us but ourselves," she said.

Investment in research and development would rise to 3 per cent of gross domestic product by 2010, through increasing funding by 500 million euros a year, she said.

But Merkel simultaneously pledged not to abandon government's commitment to help the weaker members of society.

"I'm talking about the sick, the children, the aged. The humanity of our system is determined by how we treat these groups," she said.

Among the concrete steps proposed are a gradual raising of the retirement age to 67 and a cut of close to 4 billion euros (4.7 billion dollars) in unemployment and related payouts.

Non-wage labour costs were at an international record in Germany and would be cut by 2 percentage points, and Germany had to move to a modern service-sector economy, Merkel said.

She noted previous policy differences over how to fund the health sector between her Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats, who make up half the cabinet.

There would be no "lazy compromise" between the two positions, she said.

On family policy, she outlined policies to allow would-be mothers to combine work and raising a family through increasing child care and introducing payments to parents.

"Young people should be encouraged to decide for a life with children - to be able to decide," said the chancellor, who is herself childless.

Pointing to abuse of Germany's generous welfare state, Merkel said: "It is right when the weak are helped. It is not right when when the strong disguise themselves as weak with the aim of abusing the community."

Government policy would move from financing unemployment to financing employment wherever possible, Merkel said, adding that a job meant dignity and self-respect and not just income.

On immigration and integration, Merkel rejected all forms of extremism and racial discrimination, but she added: "I am convinced that integration can only succeed if immigrant children are strongly motivated to learn German."

Regarding Islam, Merkel said greater understanding was required on both sides, but differences would not be ignored.

"As a woman I say expressly: Forced marriages and honour murders - both terrible concepts - have nothing to do with honour and they have no place in our society," she said.

The new chancellor said the European Union was in "deep crisis" and pledged that Germany would play a "balancing" role in relations with smaller member countries.

"There is no point in brushing away this crisis. We need to master it," Merkel said, listing as areas of concern the budgetary impasse, constitutional deadlock and anxiety over expansion.


Subject: German news

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