. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kohl Defends Austerity, Offers Talks

BONN -- German Chancellor Helmut Kohl on Wednesday defended his austerity drive against attacks from opponents but offered to talk to them and unions about solving the country's burgeoning unemployment problem.

Social Democratic (SPD) leaders charged that Bonn's policies were a failure and accused Kohl of pushing ever more people out of work and bankrupting public coffers.

Emboldened by a new poll from the respected Allensbach Institute showing 64 percent of Germans agreed his spending cuts were necessary, Kohl said, "A large majority of Germans have recognized that change is necessary to secure the future."

"Dramatic changes in the world economy require change in an economy like Germany's," he told a major parliamentary debate on the 1997 budget.

But in the Bundestag debate, SPD parliamentary leader Rudolf Scharping said, "The government's austerity policy endangers the future of the country and is deeply socially unjust. You, chancellor, are fighting against the weak."

He said Kohl had lied to people about the real costs of unification in 1990 and was now making ordinary people pay by cutting back social benefits.

German unemployment is hovering close to a postwar record of 4 million, or 10 percent of the work force, and is showing no signs of retreating despite a fledgling economic recovery.

"This is unacceptable and remains central in our policy. But accelerating growth alone is not sufficient, and therefore we need our 50-point austerity package," Kohl added.

The package aims to slash public spending by 70 billion Deutsche marks ($46.24 billion) next year and also contains a range of supply-side measures aimed at promoting employment.

Unveiled at the beginning of this year, the austerity drive is now in the home stretch and should pass through parliament by the end of the year. But it is not yet clear if Bonn will succeed in pushing through all 70 billion marks worth of cuts.

Kohl hit out at the opposition parties, accusing them of a "permanent refusal to help reform" and of having made "no contribution to helping solve the challenges that face us as we head into the 21st century."

But he hoped that after a lower house vote Friday on a significant part of his austerity package, a constructive relationship could be built with the SPD and unions with the aim of further promoting jobs.

About 240,000 people attended demonstrations against the cuts around Germany during the weekend.