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Last Updated: Sunday, 25 May, 2003, 10:56 GMT 11:56 UK
German budget '15bn euros short'
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder
Not everyone is as happy with reform as Mr Schroeder
Germany has a 15bn euro (10.8bn; $17.7bn) hole in the heart of its budget, the country's finance minister has acknowledged amid demonstrations against painful economic reforms.

Hans Eichel told the Deutschlandfunk radio station on Sunday that three years of slow growth had led to the problem.

With the situation so grave, no option could be excluded to fill the gap, he said, adding: "There must be no taboos."

Recent figures showed that Germany's economy shrank slightly in the first three months of 2003, as exports weakened in the face of a strong euro and unemployment stayed stubbornly above 4 million.

Tax revenues are also sharply down by 8.7bn euros year on year, Mr Eichel said, as he blamed the continuing high cost of 1990's reunification of East and West Germany for some of the country's woes.


Mr Eichel's admission comes as Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder faces a tough fight to push through painful economic reforms which would reduce unemployment benefits and pensions and make it easier for employers to fire workers.

Thousands of opponents of the package, which Mr Schroeder calls "Agenda 2010", marched through towns across Germany on Saturday in protest, holding banners saying "Yes to reform, no to social regression".

Michael Sommer, head of Germany's biggest trade union federation DBG, told a march in the northern industrial city of Hanover that he was not opposed to the government; he simply wanted it to start acting like a Social Democrat-Green coalition.

"Think carefully about whether the changes to the social security system that we are proposing might not be best for preserving it for another 140 years," he warned, alluding to the recent celebrations of Mr Schroeder's party's 140th birthday.

Hans Eichel, Finance Minister
"We are spending more than we can afford to spend"

Germany on brink of recession
15 May 03  |  Business
German unions vent anger
01 May 03  |  Business
Germany mulls cash injection
11 Mar 03  |  Business
Schroeder's economic headache
06 Mar 03  |  Business
Country profile: Germany
07 Mar 03  |  Country profiles

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