Poverty row splits conservatives before German…


BERLIN, March 12 – The new secretary general of Germany’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) on Monday chided party member Jens Spahn, the incoming health minister, after a media backlash over his comments on poverty.

Poverty and abortion are the latest fault lines to emerge in the new government, hours before Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives and the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) sign their coalition agreement on Monday. The government, a rerun of the ‘grand coalition’ that has ruled since 2013, takes office on Wednesday.

Spahn, also a member of the CDU, told the Berliner Morgenpost newspaper those who received unemployment aid under financial reforms known as Hartz IV were not poor because their basic needs were met.

Secretary general Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said Spahn was correct to say Germany’s social system was reviewed regularly to ensure basic needs were met, but said it was impolitic for politicians with higher incomes to tell welfare recipients how they should feel.

Kramp-Karrenbauer told broadcaster ZDF the government would focus on reducing chronic unemployment and preventing people from needing the Hartz IV assistance.

“I always warn that … people like he and I who earn well should not try to explain how people who receive Hartz IV should feel,” she said.

Incoming Labour Minister Hubertus Heil of the SPD said: “Our country needs social cohesion, not cold-hearted debates about statistics.”

SPD Secretary General Lars Klingbeil said the coalition partners specifically agreed to tackle the issue of old-age and childhood poverty in their agreement.

“Mr. Spahn apparently didn’t pay enough attention during the coalition negotiations,” he said. “We talked explicitly about the fact that there are people in our country who are not doing well.”

Merkel was forced to negotiate a deal with the SPD after her talks on a three-way alliance with two smaller parties collapsed last November.

Both the mainstream political blocs suffered their worst post-war election result in the September election, which swept the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) into parliament for the first time amid widespread frustration about the influx of more than a million migrants since 2015.

Kramp-Karrenbauer said the two blocs would strive for “constructive” cooperation, but criticised efforts by the SPD to reverse a ban on abortion advertising.

“I think it is notable that the SPD’s answer to the fact that we had 100,000 abortions in Germany last year, and that number rose last year, is to lift the ban on advertising for abortions, instead of engaging in the debate to ensure that fewer children are aborted each year,” she told ZDF. (Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Janet Lawrence)


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