- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 28, 2008

Who’s your daddy?

One of Germany’s most influential political leaders also is a father of three who has learned something about parenthood and politics.

“When we were little kids, we would ask daddy for presents, and he would be the beloved one when he brought them,” Otto Fricke told a Washington audience yesterday. “Politicians who tell people they can have what they want are also beloved, but in the end, it is the taxpayers who pay.”

As chairman of the German parliament’s budget and appropriations committee, Mr. Fricke is often the one who is not beloved when he tells big spenders Germany cannot afford wasteful government programs.

Mr. Fricke, also a big fan of American baseball, looked to the ballpark for another analogy to describe Berlin’s budget problems when he spoke at a luncheon hosted by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation.

“Spending more than the government takes in is like using performance-enhancing drugs,” Mr. Fricke said yesterday, referring to the controversy over steroids in Major League Baseball.

At 42, Mr. Fricke is young for a powerful politician, but he embraces the old economic philosophy of classical liberalism. In Washington, that would make him a Reagan Republican.

“You’ve probably heard that Germany has a budget surplus. But where does it come from?” he asked. “We’re getting more money from the taxpayer. We didn’t reduce spending.”

Mr. Fricke, a member of the Free Democratic Party, explained that a peculiar rule of the German parliament always reserves the chairmanship of the budget and appropriations committee for an opposition member. It is an unusual check-and-balance in a parliamentary system.

He faulted the governing coalition of conservative Christian Democrats and leftist Social Democrats that took power in 2005 for undermining many economic reforms designed to ensure economic stability.

“We had reforms — some very good reforms — but 80 percent of them have been turned back completely or at least halfway,” he said.

Mr. Fricke listed Germany’s budget at the equivalent of $428 billion and its national debt at $1.4 trillion. The annual budget deficit has steadily declined, but economic growth is also declining, he said. Growth was 2.8 percent in 2006 but could fall to 1.7 percent this year.

“That means less growth and less [collected in] taxes,” he said, adding that more than 80 percent of the annual budget is spent on compulsory programs and the rest on popular programs that would be difficult politically to cut.

However, German voters refuse to face the future.

“People still listen to those daddies who say we have enough money, and we can give you more,” he said.

Embassy reopens

The U.S. Embassy in the troubled Serbian capital of Belgrade reopened yesterday, but officials still expressed doubt that authorities can protect the diplomatic mission from another mob attack like the one last week, when rioters burned the consular section.

“We do not have confidence that Serbian authorities can provide security for our staff members,” the embassy’s press officer, Rian Harris, told reporters.

Angry Serbs attacked the embassy last week to protest Washington’s decision to grant diplomatic recognition to the ethnic-Albanian enclave of Kosovo, which Serbs claim as a historical part of their nation. Kosovo declared its independence Feb. 17.

U.S. Ambassador Cameron Munter ordered the departure of most of the American diplomats, retaining a core staff to man the embassy.

The consular section “will remain closed for an indeterminate amount of time,” the embassy said in a statement.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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