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1ST LEAD Social Democrat Schulz slams Germany's Merkel on European policy By Tim Braune and Andre Stahl, dpa

By our dpa-correspondent and Europe Online    auf Facebook posten  Auf Twitter posten  
Berlin (dpa) - Going it alone on refugee policies and being too tough on budgetary rules have weakened Germany‘s standing, said Social Democratic Party (SPD) chancellor candidate Martin Schulz Sunday as he launched broadsides against his competitor.

He singled Chancellor Angela Merkel out for moving to open Germany‘s borders in 2015 as a flood of refugees moved westward across the continent without first consulting Germany‘s allies in the European Union.

He made his comments during a party conference in Berlin, where he also unveiled a series of proposals he says he would implement if he became chancellor.

Merkel‘s 2015 decision to open Germany‘s borders is seen by many as a reaction to events beyond Germany‘s control. However, many segments of German culture have recoiled against a policy that saw hundreds of thousands of refugees enter the country. Other European countries have resisted pressure to allow some of the refugees to resettle in their territory.

Schulz, who was president of the European Parliament until earlier this year, said he would, if elected chancellor, try to hammer out a unified EU refugee policy and said countries that refused to take refugees would see payments from the EU decline. 

He noted that Germany pays a net 15 billion euros (17.2 billion dollars) into the EU budget. Financial planning for the years starting 2021 are due to begin in 2018. Should the SPD win in autumn, Schulz has said he plans to use financing as a cudgel in the EU to force movement on this and other issues.

"Solidarity is not a one-way street. Those who categorically refuse the reception of refugees or engage in tax dumping or ruinous tax competition are lacking in solidarity," according to the SPD‘s "Plan for the Future of Germany," which the party formally laid out on Sunday.

He also noted that whatever proposals Merkel makes now cannot be trusted because the Christian Social Union - the Bavarian-based sister party to Merkel‘s Christian Democrats - have not yet released their party platform. Until that time, all of her policies are subject to change, said Schulz.

He called it a "full-blown scandal" that Merkel is, essentially, campaigning with a promise of "We have great plans for Europe, but I‘ll only tell you what I‘m planning after the election."

Schulz also slammed Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, saying his focus on austerity has been detrimental to countries like Greece, which just had to cut pensions for the 13th time since the European financial crisis.

Against that backdrop, the SPD‘s plan would expand on Germany‘s debt brake - designed to keep German federal spending under control - with a call for a spending floor that would dictate how much government spending should be directed towards investment in medium-term financial planning.

"The state - this is important - can‘t allow irresponsible deficits," said Schulz. "But it also has to - if we require it - use its money for a binding commitment to improvements in public infrastructure."

The plan notes there can be no skimping on investments that seek to ensure more fairness between spending for older and younger Germans.

The plan also includes an Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development-supported initiative to set aside up to 20,000 euros (22,930 dollars) for further education for every employed worker older than 18.

The initiative is an attempt to answer the problem of digital change in the labour market. A similar project was started in France earlier this year.

Schulz also advocated to make it easier for Germans to reach their authorities online and around the clock, addressing a complaint of many German residents who have to wait weeks sometimes to get an appointment for such things as registrations or visas.

Merkel proposed a similar plan on Saturday, but without a timeline.

Schulz said it would be a central priority in the first five years of any government he ran.

"We‘ll take this on right after the Bundestag election," he said.


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