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Germany

Poverty and wealth report slammed for deletions

Germany's government has rejected charges that its report on poverty and wealth falsified signs of societal disintegration. This followed newspaper claims Wednesday that critical passages were removed during editing.

Steffen Seibert, the spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition of her conservatives and the pro-business liberals, said joint formulation of text within government circles was a "normal procedure." The text was "realistic," he said.

A spokeswoman for Germany's social ministry said the document - published every four years - was a draft. Feedback from welfare groups would be inserted.

Passages missing

Two major newspapers, the Süddeutsche Zeitung and the Mitteldeutsche Zeitung, said a November 21 draft of the report lacked passages seen in an initial version released two months ago by Social Minister Ursula von der Leyen, a member of Merkel's Christian Democrats.

One deleted passage had said: "While wage trends in the upper segment grew positively, low wages sunk in real terms over the past 10 years." Another removed remark had said "private assets in Germany are distributed very unevenly."

The authors had originally warned that current income trends "hurt society's expectations of equality and endanger social cohesion."

Another deletion was a recommendation that the federal government revise income tax tables so that private wealth "be used more to sustain public services."

Watering-down, says left

Left Party chairman Bernd Riexinger on Wednesday accused the pro-business liberal Free Democrats Party (FDP) of having the report "watered down."

"This clientele-based party is conducting politics against the majority [of society]," said Riexinger.

In September, FDP leader Philipp Rösler had condemned the report's initial version, saying its recommendations were "negligent" and wealth taxes would erode competition and employment.

On Wednesday, his colleague Rainer Brüderle who chairs the FDP parliamentary group expressed anger that internal discussion about the draft report had been forwarded to the media. That was an "unfriendly act," Brüderle said.

The general secretary of Germany's mainstream opposition center-left Social Democrats, Andrea Nahles, accused the government of "blending out" realities.

"People notice when something becomes imbalanced and that the gap between poor and rich is growing further," Nahles said.

Greens party co-chairman Cem Özdemir described the handling of the report as "balance sheet falsification."

Book: Societal disintegration

A new book entitled "Unsocial" by Stern magazine reporter Walter Wüllenwebers says German society is in "a state of disintegration."

German society's upper and bottom layers had "withdrawn into parallel societies" and no longer contributed to funding communal entities, the reporter wrote. The middle class had been left carrying the taxation load, he said, and was the only segment that still believed in Germany's 1949 founding ethic that work brings benefits.

ipj/msh (dpa, KNA, dapd, AFP)