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by Euro Reporter
2015-05-05 10:35:19
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German train drivers prepare for week-long strike

Drivers for Germany's Deutsche Bahn plan a week-long strike to start on Monday, their eighth walkout in 10 months of wage negotiations. The drivers' union GDL called on train drivers to stop work from 15:00 local time for freight and 02:00 on Tuesday for passenger trains. GDL wants a 5% pay rise and the working week to be reduced to 37 hours from 39.

"This strike is completely inappropriate and totally over the top," Deutsche Bahn said.  "The GDL union is going to cause massive harm to rail passengers, Deutsche Bahn and its employees, but also to the German economy." said the train company in a statement. GDL also wants the right to negotiate on behalf of other employees including train stewards.

A 43-hour strike last month led to the cancellation of two-thirds of Germany's long-distance trains. Both the union and the company blame one another for the breakdown in talks that led to the new round of strikes. GDL said "no results" have been achieved in the negotiations in a statement on its website. Deutsche Bahn employs 300,000 people, including 196,000 in Germany and transports about 5.5 million people in Germany every day.

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Germany defies reputation on immigration

germany_400_01Though the country is a leader on immigration policy in certain areas, in the competition for skilled foreign workers, there is still room for improvement, an assessment shows. According to analysts, Germany is much further ahead on immigration issues than is often perceived. This is among the results of a new assessment from the Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration (SVR). Compared to other classical immigration countries, such as the United States or Canada, the study shows that Germany has been performing quite well. In some cases, the Federal Republic even leads by example. “In an international comparison, Germany is among the ranks of advanced immigration countries,” said the chairman of the Expert Council, Christine Langenfeld. But the fact that Germany has picked up slack in many areas, is often overlooked in the political debate. The SVR’s investigation included regulations on seeking employment for foreign skilled workers, and greater openings in the labour market for skilled workers without academic backgrounds.  At least from a “legal and institutional” perspective, the Federal Republic has become “very well situated”, the authors write. But Germany should not stop at this good result, Langenfeld warned. “An overall strategy for migration policy is still missing,” she said.

This must also include the identification of future countries of origin for new immigrants, where Germany is positioned as a country of immigration.  “In addition, Germany’s self-image as an immigration country must be firmly established,” Langenfeld emphasised. But the SVR came to the conclusion that examples like Canada or the United States cannot be used so easily. “The country comparison shows that in three central areas of German migration and integration policy – labour migration, citizenship and asylum policy – Germany can only learn from successful immigration countries under certain conditions,” the report states. The differing political, economic, social or geographic conditions are one reason for this, according to the report. On the other hand, Germany has become a leader of modern migration policy in areas like labour migration policy, its authors contend. “But a successful migration and integration policy encompasses much more than just liberal laws,” Langenfeld said. One of the central tasks for politicians is to promote a widely held self-image of Germany as an immigration country, she argued. “Burning asylum camps are a devastating signal,” Langenfeld warned.

In these policy areas, which is strongly influenced by emotions, politicians must better explain decisions and backgrounds, she commented. They must also make it clear that immigration is an opportunity and a necessity for Germany, the Expert Council’s chairman stated, not least due to the shortage of skilled workers amid current demographic trends. For this reason, politicians must tackle the issue more intensively than before, seeking out dialogue and proximity to citizens. The SVR also proposes considering a new procedure for the EU’s refugee policy. After their asylum application is recognised, refugees should be able to travel on to an EU country of their choice, said the group.  The principle stating that fundamental competence for the asylum application goes to the state of first entry (Dublin Regulation) will be maintained and strengthened. “A coherent immigration policy cast in one piece, that can be understood by our population, is still missing,” said Aydan Özoğuz, the government’s commissioner for migration, refugees and integration, reacting to the assessment.  Such a law could emit a strong signal that Germany is not only an immigration country, but is becoming a real immigration society. Özoğuz says one of the most urgent challenges in refugee policy is “a fair distribution of those seeking refuge in the EU”. The Dublin system does not work because many EU countries already display a lack of solidarity in accepting refugees. As a result, she is calling for a new distribution system in the European Union that would require every member state to take in asylum seekers according to its economic power and size. “In this way, we would ensure that all EU member states really make their own contribution in the acceptance of refugees,” said Özoğuz.

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Germany should consider war debt Gesture to Greece and save the euro too

Greece’s economy is at the brink of an abyss and could pull the entire euro area behind it into the dustbin of history, ending a formidable project of economic cooperation, prosperity and peace in a continent blighted by centuries of wars and plagues, culminating in the horrors of World War Two. Germany started and lost that war, 70 years ago. Now, Germany is standing strong and is calling the political shots in Europe - strengthened by its robust economy – to the point of pushing for a prolonged cure of austerity for the anaemic European economy. Repeated calls for “pro-growth” stimulus measures – by pausing the state debt reduction programs – by some leaders from France, Italy, Spain or, indeed, Greece are stifled by a comfortable cushion of conservative consent. Only the European Central Bank has managed to overcome German resistance to implement is expansionary monetary policies as a way of providing breathing space in the economy while the national coffers remain shut. In that context, the demands for debt leniency by the Greek government of Alexis Tsipras fell on deaf ears. His Syriza party had won the elections of January 2015 on untenable promises and a popular rejection of continued austerity under the supervision of the EU, IMF and ECB.

It is no surprise these electoral commitments could not be kept. Radical economist Yanis Varoufakis threw gasoline on the fire by alienating his fellow finance ministers with amateur negotiating tactics. Whether his views are right or wrong does not matter, but his approach was not practical. Greece needs to butter up Germany and like-minded European politicians such as Dutch Finance Minister and Euro group president Jeroen Dijsselbloem, in order to arrive at a compromise.  Recent talks between Tsipras and German Chancellor Angela Merkel could bring such a compromise closer.  The decision to withdraw Varoufakis from the European talks, and ask discreet diplomat and fellow economist Euclide Tsakalotos to clear the air, is also a good step. But there remains the war debt bomb. In February, Tsipras started calling for Germany to make war reparations and in April, the Greek government put a figure of some 280 billion euros on that debt. German officials such as economy minister Sigmar Gabriel said it was “dumb” to link the war debt issue to the current debt talks.  Others said the war debt issue had been settled with the so-called Moscow agreement of 1990, in which East and West Germany negotiated their unification with the four allied war victors of the United States, Britain, France and Russia.

The issue is however very serious and cannot be scoffed at, or be cleverly lawyered away.  German president Joachim Gauck on Saturday said Germany should examine its historical responsibility to Greece. In an interview with the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, he also mentioned the fate of Russian war prisoners in Nazi hands. Greece was invaded in October 1940 by the Italian fascist troops from already annexed Albania as Benito Mussolini was anxious to show Adolf Hitler that Italy could also play its part in the military conquest of the Axis. The Hellenic forces counterattacked and pushed back the Italians. In 1941, German troops sided with the Italians via Bulgaria and Yugoslavia and the Greek and British Commonwealth troops were overwhelmed. During the occupation, the Greek economy was plundered as goods and raw materials were taken from the country without payment.  Greece had to pay the cost of the occupation and the central bank had to make an interest free loan to Nazi Germany to cover the costs of the stolen goods in the national statistics. This loan totalled some 500 million Reichsmarks by the end of the war. Germany paid 115 million mark in 1960 that some see as a down payment and others as a settlement.

Many tens of thousands of Greeks were executed, sometimes massacred. Hundreds of thousands of Greeks died from starvation. Tens of thousands of Greek Jews were eliminated. About one million Greek were left homeless. Total deaths are estimated in a range of 320,000 to 800,000. Following the Second World War, Greece slipped into a civil war.  The official government forces backed by Britain and the United States fought the communist partisans. This war lasted until 1949 and further destroyed the Greek economy.  Many thousands of children of leftish parents were placed in special camps. Former Nazi collaborators found lucrative positions in the new ruling classes and the general Cold War atmosphere left Greece deeply divided, up to the military coup in 1967. The dictatorship lasted until 1974, followed by a conservative government that ended the monarchy.  In 1981, the Socialist PASOK won the elections and since 1989 there had been coalitions of the socialists and liberal-conservatives. The Greek economy and people had suffered from the fascist war, the civil war, the Cold War and dictatorship. Greece is one of the youngest democracies in Western Europe, even though the word is Greek, and has in fact been ruled by a dynastic political and business elite. The latest Greek elections called an end to this oligarchy, to a certain extent. Greece cannot just blame the way it has been treated by the powerful nations for its own economic woes and the answer to its predicament needs to be more than holding up a begging bowl or a blood stained IOU. The Greek government has already made concessions and drawn up reforms in order to secure EU funds and it will now need to make these work. But the other European nations cannot just ignore the past. Germany and Italy have a moral debt to Greece. It is high time to settle these historical issues before making another historical mistake. If Greece goes under, the euro will be severely hurt and Germany will also feel the consequences and costs.

 


         
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