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SPD, CDU/CSU clash over German welfare system before inauguration of 'grand coalition'

Xinhua | Updated: 2018-03-14 01:04

BERLIN - The German Social Democrats (SPD) and Christian Democratic Union (CDU)/ Christian Social Union (CSU) have become embroiled in a public dispute over the adequacy for German's welfare system on Tuesday.

The quarreling between the prospective "grand coalition" partners was hereby sparked by an assertion during an interview by the designated minister for health Jens Spahn (CDU) that Germany's welfare system was "one of the best social systems in the world." Spahn further said that "nobody in Germany would suffer hunger if there were no food banks" and that recipients of Hartz IV benefit payments had "everything they needed to live."

The controversial comments earned a swift rebuke by SPD interim leader Olaf Scholz who emphasized during an appearance on the public broadcaster "ARD" that his party had "different views" on the issue.

Supporting his party leader's intervention, SPD parliamentary vice-president Ralf Stegner subsequently told the newspaper "Frankfurter Rundschau" that the designated minister for health's statement was inappropriate given how marked the "differences between rich and poor" were in Germany.

Stegner also noted, however, that the episode could be "useful" for the SPD because it would help demonstrate the remaining political differences between the left-wing party and the more conservative CDU. According to the SPD parliamentary vice-president, Spahn's comments "needed to be opposed" from a social democratic perspective.

German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier joined the debate on Tuesday as well by urging the next government to reduce the number of citizens who were reliant on welfare benefits.

"We must set ourselves higher goals than letting people live off Hartz-IV or other welfare transfers," Steinmeier told the newspaper "Rheinische Post." The president argued that Berlin should place a greater focus on ensuring individuals earned enough through their labor to live independently of the government.

Nevertheless, CSU parliamentary leader and ex-minister Alexander Dobrindt defended Spahn's comments. Dobrindt pointed out that the existing Hartz IV system had been created by the SPD's ex-chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and said that there was "no objective basis" for criticizing German welfare provisions.

The widely-publicized debate has erupted only day before Angela Merkel (CDU) is scheduled to be re-elected as chancellor by the federal parliament (Bundestag) on March 14. The CDU, CSU and SPD have already formally signed a coalition agreement which formally articulates the key legislative ambitions of the next German government.

In the meanwhile, a poll published by the newspaper "BILD" on Tuesday showed that the SPD has reversed a long-standing trend of decline in its levels of public support. The party rose by 2.5 percentage points to 17.5 percent in the survey, while the CDU/CSU declined slightly by one percentage point to a combined 32 percent.

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