- The Washington Times - Monday, August 13, 2001

The conservative governor of the German state of Hesse has sparked a rancorous debate throughout Germany by suggesting that it undertake American-style welfare reforms.
The issue now appears likely to become a central campaign topic in German federal elections next year.
Roland Koch, a leading member of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), dropped his bombshell after meetings in Washington this month with Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson, who pioneered welfare reform as governor of Wisconsin.
In an announcement on national German public radio, Mr. Koch said he would override federal legislation and introduce a set of U.S.-inspired welfare policies in his state.
Mr. Koch said his reforms would be modeled on the program introduced in Wisconsin by Mr. Thompson.
Wisconsin became the first state to institute genuine work requirements for welfare recipients. As a result, the number of beneficiaries dropped from 100,000 to about 40,000.
Inspired by those figures, Mr. Koch proposed disciplinary measures against recipients of social welfare in Hesse who refuse jobs offered to them by the state. Such people would have to face "meager life conditions" in the future, Mr. Koch said.
Such statements are still highly unusual in a country where social peace and equal distribution of wealth are high on the political agenda.
The German welfare system is now among the most generous in the world. In many cases, people are better off receiving social help than working.
Mr. Koch's remarks provoked hostile reactions from the governing Social Democratic Party (SPD), as well as from the labor unions.
Ottmar Schreiner, social affairs spokesman for the SPD in the German parliament, accused Mr. Koch of "abusing" people in a populist way.
Mr. Koch was misleading the public by suggesting that welfare rolls could be cut in half without causing significant hardship, Mr. Schreiner said.
A spokesman for the German trade unions said the state could force people to get work only if there were "more jobs on offer."
The German department of labor announced last week that the unemployment rate rose to 9.2 percent last month, up from 8.9 percent in June. News about a steep decline in orders for manufactured goods heightened fears of recession.
But Mr. Koch's remarks were welcomed by his CDU colleagues. Their Bavarian-based sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), announced that a similar reform could be introduced in Bavaria, as well.

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