Western European News Digest
Attacks on French Labor Code Trigger Growing Mass Ferment
The movement against the First Employment Contract (CPE) created by Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin for youth 18 to 25, is continuing to grow throughout France. While in principle a long-term contract, the CPE allows employers to fire youth without cause during the first two years on the job. The youth would then get unemployment compensation for a few months.
De Villepin had his law for this contract voted without debate or amendments, by invoking Article 49.3 of the Constitution; and then, along with Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, decided to use force to end the occupation of the Sorbonne by 2,000 students protesting the law. The Bonapartist methods have only provoked a massive growth of the movement, and a plunge in the opinion polls for both Sarkozy and de Villepin. Three mass demonstrations occurred March 14, 16, and 18. The Saturday demonstrations, bringing together high school and university students, as well as public employees, were expected to define whether this contract will hold or not.
President Jacques Chirac, who's on a much more "progressive" line and was against the law in the first place, is discreetly trying to find fallback options. Jean Louis Debré, head of the National Assembly and a Chirac loyalist, stated that while one cannot change a law which was just adopted, a new law changing some provisions is possible. The Socialist Party has filed an appeal with the Constitutional Court.
A Half-Century of German Social Welfare Under Attack
In a speech at an FDP (Free Democrats) election campaign event in Wiesbaden, on March 12, Norbert Walter, the head of the Deutsche Bank Research section and an FDP member, ran through the entire list of neo-con calls for budget cuts ("reforms").
This included the slogan that "the minimum of what we need is Kirchhof," referring to the scandalous summer 2005 "sledgehammer" threats by Paul Kirchhof against the social-welfare system in Germany. Walter added his own view that Germany has been run by socialism-minded governments during the past 50 years, including governments dominated by "CDU socialists."
Not only was Walter challenged by an audience member, but it was clear that not everyone in the audience of about 100 shared Walter's views, as judged by their reactions on leaving.
After Dresden: Now Leipzig and Berlin Housing are Targets
Social Democrat (SPD) Burkhard Jung, Leipzig's newly elected mayor, is thinking of selling the city's 59,000 publicly owned flats to a hedge or other investment fund, along the lines of the Dresden WOBA model. That would relieve Leipzig of its 900-million-euro debt at one single stroke, he says (and give the creditor banks the same sum, which he does not mention). Which just shows that those Leipzig voters that voted for the SPD's candidate in the Feb. 26 mayoral election were fooled.
Also, the municipal treasurer of Mainz, Kurt Merkator, also of the SPD, is considering selling 13,000 publicly owned flats to pay off the 540-million-euro debt of the city. The sale there would, however, be somewhat complicated, as three former districts of Mainz are now territorial property of Wiesbaden (Kostheim, Kastel, and Amoeneburg), so that Wiesbaden keeps a share of 17% in the Mainz municipal housing sector.
Also, fund managers of the British "investment" fund Puma Brandenburg Limited, announced March 15 that they want to pour up to 1 billion euros into the takeover of privatized municipal housing, predominantly in Berlin. In the near-term, they want to purchase 20,000 flats, notably in the Kreuzberg and Wedding districts. Puma is a daughter of Britain's Shore Capital Investment Bank.
Apparently, talks have already taken place between the fund and the SPD-PDS (former East German communists) municipal administration of Berlin, which has, however, posed a ceiling on sales of no more than 3,000 flats, for the time beingthat is, before the September elections for municipal council. Originally, the plan was for sales of 15,000 flats of the city-owned WBM (Wohnbaugesellschaft Mitte), but that was pulled back, because of growing unrest also in Berlin, over the sale of the WOBA Dresden, and its implications on other cities. Tenants are, after all, also voters.
German Retirees Under Heavy Attack by Neo-Cons
Germany's ruling coalition under Chancellor Angela Merkel (Christian Democrat) is criminally committed to keeping in line with the Maastricht rules, from 2007 on, instead of looking for real alternatives. This implies that the 25 billion-euro conjunctural program, which the government announced it would start in 2006, will not get off the ground, because preparations for meeting the Maastricht requirements for 2007 are already on the way. In any case, the government had planned not to invest more than 3.7 billion, of the entire 25 billion-euro program, in 2006.
The respective preparations include renewed attacks on Hartz IV (social-welfare) recipients and on retired citizens. Two expert panels working for the government have said 1) that Hartz IV recipients are "overpaid" with 345 euros per month, because asylum-seekers from other countries usually get along with only 225 euros; 2) that pensions will not increase before 2016, and likely drop in the years after. Labor and Social Affairs Minister Franz Muentefering (SPD), meanwhile, made himself a mouthpiece for the neo-con call for raising the retirement age from 65 to 67 years.
In the Bildzeitung on March 16, Johann Eekhoff, former Assistant Economic Minister of Germany, declared that only those that have children contribute to the future of the community. Those that don't have children, do not; therefore, they should live with 50% cuts in their retirement pay.
Strike Actions Begin in German University Clinics
Surgeons and other leading personnel at the university clinics of Freiburg, Wuerzburg, Heidelberg, Munich, Mainz, Bonn, Essen, and Halle began an unlimited strike March 16, in protest against chronic underfunding and of excessive working hours. Strikes may be expanded to all university and state clinics, after between 95-98% of the 22,000 doctors voted for it.
It is not a total strike: Clinics are, for the time being, kept on a Sunday schedule, with reduced staff, and emergencies will be treated, declared a spokesmen for the doctors' association, the Marburger Bund. A protest march and rally with 4,000 doctors taking part, was held in Mainz.
'Economic Protectionist Reflex' Against Unbridaled Capitalism
In Hungary, which holds parliamentary elections on April 9, economic protectionism seems to be on the rise. The chairman of the conservative opposition party Fidesz, former Prime Minister Viktor Orban, gave an interview to Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, in which he described the program his government would implement as a "patriotic economic policy": "We want to end the 15-year chapter of unbridled capitalism." It is time to "finally bring in solidarity into the Hungarian society."
Among the problems which society faces is demographic: There are "more funerals than births," said Orban, and given the immense stress, many of the younger generation, in particular, young men between 37 and 48 years old are dying. "Anyone who reaches the age of 55 can expect a high life expectancy," Orban said. He located the cause for so many deaths in day-to-day stress, the fact that many people hold several jobs to feed the family, not enough living space, and that many suffer cardiovascular and heart disease. The key is the unemployment which is at 700,000, where one-third of the population are pensioners or on disability pensions.
German Neo-Con Praises Black Market as 'Economy of the Future'
In an interview published in the March 12 Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, leading German neo-con Kurt Biedenkopf spewed venom against the current resistance to budget-cutting reforms. In a variant of "demographic terrorism" (or, clash of generations), Biedenkopf forecast that the next generation of grandchildren will tell the then-aged present generation they have had their life, and take away from them what they think they need for their own life.
Biedenkopf also said that the lack of budget-cutting "reforms" and continuation of allegedly bloated welfare structures, has turned the black market into a laboratory for what kind of jobs will exist in the future. With 5-6 million unofficial jobs already now, Biedenkopf claimed, the black market was the "seed crystal of the future economy."
Author of New Herrhausen Slander is Anti-New-Deal
None other than Andreas Platthaus, the scribbler of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung who twice slandered local campaigns by Helga Zepp-LaRouche's BueSo (Civil Rights Solidarity) party for the revival of Roosevelt's New Deal paradigm last year, is the author of a new book, Alfred HerrhausenA German Career. Conceding on the one side that Herrhausen, head of Deutsche Bank, who was assassinated in 1989, has to be seen in the tradition of nation-builders Walther Rathenau, Hermann Abs, and Juergen Ponto, Platthaus then tries everything to denigrate Herrhausen. He alleges that Herrhausen made himself some sort of "charismatic personality" which offended the tradition of understatement and team work at Deutsche Bank, and that he tried to present himself as a great intellectual, against his more sober "just bankers" colleagues at the bank. In the end, however, Platthaus has to concede that Herrhausen spent a good part of his time with studies of philosophy and theology.