Saturday, July 01, 2006

Meet Soccer Babe Angie

Ah, it's always good to see someone expressing my thoughts before I dare to blog. Whereas Mad Minerva is going wild about Germany's and Italy's advance into the FIFA soccer world cup semi-finals and states:

I enjoyed also watching the Kanzlerin cheering in the stands too.
James Forsyth over at Passport brings on the real point, by asking

why on earth did the Argentine coach take out his most dangerous player, Riquelme?
and taking a look behind the curtain of the boozed, flag-waving, car horn nation, which happens to be "my country":

But the more FP point I want to make is that Angela Merkel is as much a winner as the German team. Not only is Merkel getting great publicity with every Germany game (the TV cuts to her even more than it does to Posh Spice aka Mrs Beckham during England games), but she is also using the tournament to push through a series of controversial measures. The Times of London had a great article a few days ago about all the bills that Merkel is sneaking through while the public is captivated by the heroics of Ballack, Lehman[n] et al.
A quote from the above mentioned Times article (Merkel makes hay while Germans watch the play):

Political conflicts have barely flickered on to German television screens. The Upper House of parliament reluctantly gave the go-ahead to a 3 per cent increase in VAT last Friday — with some heavy-hitting regional barons voting against or abstaining. Normally there would have been a nationwide howl of protest — indeed, the mass circulation Bild called it the “biggest single tax rise in German history” — but the critical article, as Frau Merkel, the Chancellor, had calculated, was buried under a mountain of stories on the German football team. The big tabloid revolt fizzled out.

Little wonder, then, that ministers are now required to meet in the Chancellery every Sunday until the end of the World Cup to fine-tune other unpopular Bills that will quickly canter through parliament. Three key pieces of legislation are supposed to be wrapped up before the World Cup final on July 9.

Let's have a look at those key pieces:

First, a reform of the system redistributing power between central government and the regions.

Done:

Bundestag Passes Bumper Reform

The German parliament voted Friday to overhaul the federal system of government, marking the broadest change to the constitution since 1949 with what has been billed "the mother of all reforms".

Next key piece, please:

Second, the essentials of the health reform, a source of deep conflict between the governing partners, the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats, must be agreed before July.
Not settled yet (my emphasis):

Merkel changing her tune on taxes

Eight months into her term as chancellor, Angela Merkel is on the verge of raising taxes for the second time, in this case for a vast and bureaucratic health care system.

The proposal by her coalition of conservatives and Social Democrats envisions an expansion of the system to cover children that could cost taxpayers from €16 billion to €25 billion, or $20 billion to $31 billion.

(...)

Merkel came to office promising to cut taxes, reduce bureaucracy, and encourage competition and transparency.

But after spending several Sunday nights closeted in the chancellery with health experts from her conservative union and the Social Democrats, a plan is in the works that seems likely to create more bureaucracy at a higher cost to the government.

The decision has the makings of "bureaucratic monster," and an expensive one at that, said Winfried Fuest, economics professor at the Institute for the German Economy in Cologne.

Germany is beset by spiraling costs for medication, a declining birth rate and an aging population. All that is adding pressure on the health care system that insures 90 percent of German adults through 250 health care insurance companies, a system that eats up money with little accountability.

"There is absolutely no transparency in the way doctors charge patients in the public health system," said Fuest, whose institute is one of five economic research centers that advise the government. Nor is there transparency in the ties between drug companies and the doctors, he added.

Patients in the public system do not receive bills. Instead, the doctor is reimbursed through the patient's public insurance company. Conversely, in the private health insurance system, patients receive a bill that meticulously records the cost of each treatment.

But under the plan being fashioned, analysts say it is unlikely that the public health system will become more transparent and subject to competition.
(...)

The rest of the article is insightful as well! For more information about the German health care system, see:

German University Clinic Doctors End Strike, New One Looms

After a three-month health care workers' strike, university clinics in North Rhine-Westfalia resumed normal business on Monday. However, doctors at municipal hospitals are threatening to walk out.
and

Lid Lifted on Corrupt German Health Service

In its annual corruption report, Transparency International estimates that corruption costs Germany's healthcare system between 8 and 24 billion euros ($10 and 30 billion) a year.
Finally, the third key piece as mentioned in the Times article:

Third, the 2007 Budget has to be passed through parliament. At present it looks as if the extra VAT revenues will be largely swallowed up by the extra cost of labour reforms.
Labor reforms? What labor reforms? Oooooh, maybe that one:

SPD admits naivety in German labour reforms

Germany's Social Democrats yesterday admitted their landmark reform of long-term unemployment payments was poorly designed and acknowledged their naivety when they introduced the scheme that has since sent welfare costs skyrocketing.
I'm sorry but I can't enjoy cheering soccer babe Angie. Her "Iron Lady reloaded" reputation and her approval rates, skyrocketing like welfare costs, are as undeserved as Germany's victory against the best soccer team of this world cup. I cry for you, Argentina!

7 comments:

Mad Minerva said...

Very good points about Merkel. I think that really, no matter if the German soccer team advances or not, she has already won. Germany has already won too. Good publicity, but also hope for reforms. I already hear hopeful analysis about the German economy, etc. There is much to do, of course, but this is a start! I shall cheer for Germany even when the World Cup is over.

(Still, it was fun to see her cheering in the stadium!)

Marian said...

Maddie,

it's all good, girl! ;-)

It's fun to see you cheering for Germany.

Thanks for your comment.

Joerg - Atlantic Review said...

You can find comfort in Fußball und Merkel: passt nicht ;-)

Marian said...

Joerg,

thank you so much. You're a fast friend ;-).

Don said...

Marian, if you are so disillusioned with Merkel's 'reforms' - fight them!

Marian said...

Don,

I'm too busy to fight against the nutjobs in my own party. And since the world cup is over - let's wait and see...

Don said...

"acknowledged their naivety when they introduced the scheme that has since sent welfare costs skyrocketing."

I'm pretty certain that the measurable costs of the welfare state are the least of the problem - it's what economists call the 'externalities' whichj kill you.

What I'm referring to here is the fact that a poorly designed welfare system can effectively cut a society in two - between people who work and those who cash government checks.

The US welfare 'reform' of circa 1968-1972 was an utter disaster in this respect. In 1960 about 30% of those nominally eligible for welfare actually were enrolled. That figure became 90% by 1972.

This by itself isn't necessarily a bad thing - because it meant that the social fabric of many poor neighborhoods changed very much for the worse between 1960 and 1972. The 1960 neighborhood had no shortage of 'working poor' and even a few middle class figures in it, and government cheque-cashers were a minority. By 1972 the middle class had moved out, many of the former working-poor had moved upwards into the middle class and moved away, and many neighborhoods were left with very few if any people who worked for a living. This proved to be a rolling disaster, particularly for the young who had never known anything else.

I think the greatest accomplishment of President Clinton and the Republican Congress was the Welfare reform bill of 1996, which has gone a good way toward reversing that change. The US still has poverty but is a good way toward having broken up the so-called 'welfare class'. There are many more working people at the bottom of US society now - often being partially supported by funds which once paid them for not working. This has helped restore social connections which had been lost - because it is much more difficult to demonize a fellow worker than a lazy check-casher....