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Politics

Greens challenge Merkel with jobs and welfare package

The Greens have called for a minimum wage set by law, higher pay to welfare recipients and wealth taxation to boost education. Claudia Roth drew much of the focus, as her party re-elected her as its co-leader.

The 700 delegates to the Greens' annual conference in Hanover largely adopted their executive's welfare and education proposals, including a standard minimum wage of 8.50 euros ($10.80) and a raise from 374 euros monthly for long-term welfare recipients nationwide to 420 euros.

The package's adoption precedes Germany federal elections, scheduled for next fall.

How broad-based is the Greens party?

Greens co-chairman Cem Özdemir challenged the refusal of Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right coalition to require employers to benchmark the bottom end of pay scales, saying "too many" of Germany's population had been marginalized by welfare and labor law changes in recent years.

"When even the motherland of capitalism, Great Britain, can afford minimum wages, then it's high time," Özdemir said. "There are too many who are marginalized, who can't articulate themselves."

Fifty percent of households possess only 1 percent of assets in Germany, he said, adding that the Greens wanted a socially just society for all.

Trade unionist condemns trends

Annelie Buntenbach, a former Greens parliamentarian and board member of the German DGB trade union federation condemned data showing a quarter of Germany's population in the low-wage sector. Many were stuck with casual jobbing and so-called minijobs, she said.

To better finance child care and education, the Greens' package adopted in Hanover would increase tax on annual incomes above 80,000 euros by raising the rate from 42 percent to 49 percent. Taxes on inheritances would be doubled.

Minijobs would be phased out, temporary employees would be entitled to the same wages as a firm's regular staff. Germany's trend toward limited-term job contracts would be made more difficult.

Delegates rejected an amendment for sanctions on welfare recipients seen as ignoring federal employment agency rules.

Earlier, party leaders had rejected suggestions from some of Merkel's coalition deputies that it seek an alliance with the Greens ahead of next year's election. Merkel on Saturday told a conference of her center-right Christian Democrats in Leipzig that she would stick to her current coalition with the pro-business liberal Free Democrats.

Thomas Oppermann, the parliamentary leader of the opposition Social Democrats, reiterated his party's offer to form a coalition with the Greens, saying: "For a red-green majority, we need a strong Greens party."

Later on Saturday, the Greens in Hanover renewed their support of Claudia Roth, giving her 88.5 percent of the vote - nearly 10 percent more than what she received in 2010 - and a new term as the party's co-leader. Onlookers had been eagerly anticipating the decision after Roth unexpectedly failed earlier this week to be nominated to run in next year's federal elections on the Greens' twin ticket. The longtime leader had polled a low 26 percent in a ballot of 60,000 Greens members.

Co-chair Cem Özdemir was also reelected, winning 83.3 percent of the vote.

In the recent ballot, members chose the Greens' parliamentary group leader and former environment minister, Jürgen Trittin, and Bundestag Vice President Katrin Goering-Eckardt as their top candidates for next year's federal elections. Goering-Eckardt is also a key figure in Germany's Protestant church.

ipj/mkg (dapd, dpa, Reuters)

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