Roundup: Coalition partners CDU, SPD have row over public investment in Germany
Xinhua News Agency
BERLIN, July 17 (Xinhua) -- Martin Schulz, leader of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) urged Chancellor Angela Merkel to ramp up public investment in Germany but has been promptly rebuffed by her on Sunday night.
Hoping to strengthen his appeal to voters ahead of national elections in September, Schulz released a ten-point "plan for the future" which calls for Berlin to re-invest its budget surpluses more aggressively in Germany and Europe.
According to Schulz, it's in Germany's interest to support the economic health of the wider European Union (EU) with fiscal transfers. In return, however, he demanded solidarity and raised the possibility of financially punishing member states which go against EU principles or refuse to accept their fair share of refugees.
He proposed making it law that governments must engage in a minimum level of public investment.
"Alongside the debt ceiling, we need a minimum threshold for investment which preserves the substance of our country and makes it fit for the future," Schulz said.
Appearing on German public broadcaster ARD with the German head of state, Merkel was quick to reject Schulz's initiative. While both agreed on the need for more investment, the chancellor argued that the key problem lay in bureaucratic hurdles to government spending, not the amount of available funds.
"At the moment, we cannot spend the money that we have," Merkel said. As a result, Merkel said her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) would focus its energy on speeding up planning processes.
Speaking to the ZDF Heute Journal, Schulz shot back, "When it rains in schools through leaky roofs and children cannot use the toilets, you need craftsmen, not a planning process."
Addressing how the combined surplus of 56 billion euros (64 billion U.S. dollars) achieved by all levels of German government is used, he added, "The minister of finance (CDU politician Wolfgang Schaeuble) wants to redistribute these (funds) ... We want to invest them."
Despite their differing views on public investment, both politicians agreed that measures aimed at enhancing digital connectivity in Germany were an urgent priority. Both the SPD and CDU want to create an online "Germany portal" where citizens could easily complete administrative procedures from home.
As for Schulz's ten-point plan, Green party leader Cem Oezdemir complained that it made little mention of the challenge of climate change.
Left party leader Sarah Wagenknecht welcomed Schulz proposals to oblige the German government to invest more, but questioned how they would be financed after the SPD dropped demands for levying taxes on wealth.
After an initial surge in support when he took the reins of the SPD in March 2017, Schulz, the former president of the European Parliament from 2012 to 2017, has struggled to translate the so-called "Schulz effect" into electoral victories.
The SPD has since suffered defeats in three state elections in Saarland, Schleswig-Holstein, and North Rhine-Westphalia.
According to a recent Emnid poll, the CDU/CSU (Christian Social Union in Bavaria) continue to lead the race for the parliamentary elections in September with the combined support of 38 percent, well ahead of the SPD at 25 percent. (1 euro = 1.14 U.S. dollars) Enditem