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Health Battle Reaches Its Climax In Germany

  • February 23rd, 2007
  • Posted by EUA Editor

potsdamer-platz.jpgLucas Moore reviews a long week in German politics

A year long stoush in Germany’s Parliament has ended with the upper house of parliament passing a government bill to overhaul health-care funding.
Some of the bill’s measures include the provision of statutory health cover for all Germans, benefiting 300,000 mostly self-employed and freelance workers who lack regular insurance.

“This reform will, despite all the criticism, guarantee high-quality medical treatment for all in future, by providing more competition and more flexibility,” Bavarian Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber said in a speech to the Bundesrat (20.2.07) in Berlin.

“He said the bill was a compromise as “everyone had to lower their sights because the positions of the Social Democrats and Christian Democrats were too different.”

Critics not only in the opposition, but within the Christian Democrat and Social Democrat coalition, have argued the proposed law will fail to meet its main goals – lowering the health-insurance premiums paid by employers and employees.

They argue the changes will actually hamper competition between insurers and increase red tape.

The German government has for decades afforded citizens high levels of health care coverage, but is now driving to cut costs being boosted by advances in medical technology, greater longevity and the need to ensure benefits for more than 4 million jobless.

The changes will affect 72 million people on state health insurance and another 8.4 million enrolled in private insurance programs.

ANGER OVER UNIVERSITY FEES

Health care is one thing, education another …

The German Government’s effort to pass on some tertiary education costs to students is proving unpopular in the last of Western Europe’s big countries to overhaul university financing. National authorities have been stung by evidence that German educational performance has started to lag, bringing on a push to allow colleges and universities to charge tuition fees for the first time in almost 40 years.

Students have been used to taking what comes for free, but are balking at paying for what they say are overcrowded classrooms, and poorly equipped libraries and laboratories.
Opposition politicians say universities should be free and accessible to people from low-income families.

A study last year ranked only five German universities among the top 100 worldwide, compared with more than 50 in the United States.

The annual University of Shanghai survey measures indicators such as research quality and awards won by employees and alumni. In the past 16 years, 23 researchers at US institutions have won Nobel Prizes in medicine. German universities have won three.

MERKEL AS EU PRESIDENT WANTS SUPPORT ON THE CONSTITUTION

German Chancellor Angela Merkel this week (19.2.07) urged sceptical countries to support a revival of the European Union’s stalled constitution, saying rules governing the 27-nation bloc left it weak and incapable of action.

Germany assumed the six-month presidency of the European Union in January with plans to relaunch the constitution project at a summit of EU leaders in June. Plans for the constitution were to consolidate a set of international treaties and make clearer rules for getting laws through the three arms of EU government – the executive Commission, the European Council made up of national Ministers from member countries, and European Parliament.

The changes were meant to enable further enlargement of the EU, by better co-ordinating a bigger number of member states, with all their various interests – but found disfavour with many Europeans in the street.
The new constitution was rejected in referendums in France and the Netherlands in 2005, leaving so far only 18 of the 27 member countries signed up in favour of it. Chancellor Merkel’s goal is to get a new version ratified by all members before the 2009 elections for the European Parliament.

“Europe’s strength, its ability to act, must be safeguarded …

“Particularly in those countries where high scepticism exists, the message must be sent that the constitutional treaty represents an improvement …”, the Chancellor said.

EU REPORT ACCUSED GERMAN GOVERNMENT OF FAILING TO HELP SUSPECT

This week the European Parliament completed investigation into the CIA’s use of “extraordinary renditions”, the practise of detaining terror suspects in European countries, (see EUAustralia, Diplomacy, 2.2.07).
The parliament voted to condemn both the practice and 14 member nations for being in complicity with it; while the report states that “extraordinary renditions” frequently occurred under the direction of non-elected intelligence officials without knowledge or consent from government representatives.

At least ten European states, including Britain, Poland, Italy and Germany aided or knew about the CIA’s clandestine programme of taking terrorism suspects to other countries for interrogation, the report says.

Final conclusions from a parliamentary committee also accuse the former German Socialist-Green government of a failure to work for the release of a Turkish-German citizen who was held prisoner by the United states at Guantanamo Bay.

The German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has rejected the claims, saying the German Government repeatedly tried to secure the freedom of Murat Kurnaz.

BUSINESS CONFIDENCE SLOWS, BUT OPTIMISM FOR MONTHS AHEAD

German business confidence declined for a second month in February on signs economic growth will slow from the fastest pace in six years, a survey of economists shows. A business survey set to be released by the Munich based IFO institute’s has indicated that conditions for trade and industry fell slightly in January. IFO has attributed the fall to an increase in VAT tax.

On the positive side the report shows German firms are increasingly more confident about economic conditions in the six months ahead, with expectations rising for the fourth month in a row. That is off-set by a comment from Bloomberg.com, that the Euro’s 10 percent appreciation against the dollar in the past year may erode German export growth, which last year drove the fastest expansion since 2000.

GERMANY AND AZERBAIJAN PLEDGE ENERGY CO-OPERATION

Amid Europe’s fears that Russia may apply the squeeze on future oil and gas supplies, in the international power game, Germany has been doing its bit for EU efforts to open new sources of supply. The Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliev held talks this week on energy issues, looking at ways the two countries could increase cooperation. They discussed use of a 1776-kilometer oil pipeline that was opened last year and provides a European outlet for Azerbaijani oil by connecting the capital of Baku via Tbilisi in Georgia to the Turkish port of Ceyhan.

Picture: PostdamerPlatz in the German capital, Berlin

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