SPD meeting fails to resolve benefits dispute

16th October 2007, Comments 0 comments

16 October 2007, Berlin (dpa) - A top-level meeting of Germany's Social Democrats (SPD) failed Tuesday to resolve a dispute over the payment of benefits to the older unemployed that has split the party in recent weeks.

16 October 2007

Berlin (dpa) - A top-level meeting of Germany's Social Democrats (SPD) failed Tuesday to resolve a dispute over the payment of benefits to the older unemployed that has split the party in recent weeks.

SPD Chairman Kurt Beck said after the meeting in the western German city of Mainz that he had failed to agree with Deputy Chancellor and Labour Minister Frank Muentefering on extending payments to those over 50.

Muentefering, who played a key role in pushing through labour market reforms under former SPD chancellor Gerhard Schroeder four years ago, has rejected Beck's proposals to ease some aspects of the reforms.

In an increasingly bitter exchange conducted through the German media, he accused Beck of populism in calling for some aspects of the Agenda 2010 programme to be rolled back.

In his proposals made at the end of last month, the chairman had "undermined the party's capacity to govern" by calling for full unemployment benefits to be paid to people older than 50 for a full two years rather than just 18 months as at present, Muentefering said.

Beck said the issue would now be put to a vote of the party's governing council on Monday, ahead of the SPD's party congress on October 27 and 28.

The conflict has caused deep division within the SPD, the junior partner in Chancellor Angela Merkel's broad coalition, with senior SPD members calling on Muentefering to withdraw his remarks.

The issue is also under debate within Merkel's Christian Democrats.

Members on the left of the conservative party support increased benefits to the older unemployed on grounds of social justice and the fact that the unemployment fund is showing a large surplus as the German economic boom continues.

Merkel's office denied a press report Tuesday that she had told Beck there was a billion euros (1.4 billion dollars) available to finance his plans.

"Press reports about an alleged undertaking to Beck about financial leeway in unemployment benefits lack any basis," a spokesman said.

The spokesman confirmed an earlier statement by Merkel during the debate that any changes to benefit payments had to be "cost-neutral."

In a clear rebuke to Muentefering, Schroeder said the Agenda 2010 programme he had pushed through over considerable opposition within Germany's traditional party of the left were "not the Ten Commandments."

Speaking in Berlin Monday, the former chancellor said no one now interpreting the programme should see himself "as Moses."

DPA

Subject: German news

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