Row erupts in German cabinet over 2009 spending

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German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck's dedication to fiscal stringency provokes a row with cabinet colleagues seeking to increase their budgets next year.

10th April 2008


Berlin - The forthright Steinbrueck was reported to have threatened four cabinet colleagues with excluding them from negotiations over the 2009 budget if they did not revise the estimates they had put forward.

The threat was unique in Germany's postwar history, the daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung said.

One of the ministers concerned, Education and Research Minister Annette Schavan expressed outrage. "I regard his reaction as exaggerated and completely inappropriate in tone," she said.

Transport Minister Wolfgang Tiefensee said that while he stood fully behind Steinbrueck's aims to balance the federal budget by 2011 for the first time in 40 years, "I expect difficult budget negotiations and intensive discussions in parliament, just as in years past."

Development Aid Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul said her budget claims were fully in line with pledges made by Chancellor Angela Merkel at international events like the Group of Eight summit in Heiligendamm in June.

Merkel has committed Germany to alleviating poverty in Africa in particular.

But other members of Merkel's broad coalition expressed support for Steinbrueck's medium-term aims, and commentators said the abrasive finance minister had the full support of the chancellor.

Government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm attempted to play down the row.

Steinbrueck would "enter into talks with the various departments to work out a suitable basis for planning the budget in line with the laid down financial consolidation plans," Wilhelm told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

The claims on the 2009 budget are currently running at 7.5 billion euros (12 billion dollars) over Steinbrueck's plans for 2009 alone, according to the Sueddeutsche. By 2012 this would rise to 41 billion euros.

The cabinet generally agrees the budget by the end of June before presenting it to parliament, which passes the required legislation in November.


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