Broken Promises

Just one month after the reelection of the red-green coalition, the mood in Germany goes sour

"Did you and the red-green government deceive the voters before the election?" That's the very first, how-do-you-do question Der Spiegel pops on Finance Minister Hans Eichel in its interview this week. "Where'd you get that idea?" he pops back. Well, the budget he drew up before the election just one month ago is a shambles now, the magazine replies. And two pretty significant promises have been broken: that deficits, in accordance with the Maastricht Treaty, would not rise more than three percent of gross domestic product and that taxes would not be raised.

Naturally, Eichel denies everything. So, too, does Chancellor Gerhard Schröder in his interview on Sunday with Der Tagesspiegel. No one, however, is buying their denials.

The coalition agreement drawn up and signed by the Social Democrats and Greens earlier this month is a complex piece of work, but in brief, it's front-loaded with what the Observer calls "hidden taxes" -- not actual increases in tax rates but the elimination of tax breaks. Certain capital gains, property and energy use exemptions, for example, are to be done away with. But in order to keep deficits down, government spending is to be cut as well, so the end result is that both business and union leaders are furious.

And that's just the economy. Environmentalists, who ought to be overjoyed at the Greens' strong showing in the election, have been hit with the news that Germany's oldest nuclear power plant won't be going offline when originally planned, further delaying the phase-out of nuclear energy. Artsy types were shocked to learn that private donations to cultural institutions would no longer be tax deductible. Schröder has heard their outcry at least and has since scratched that line in the agreement. But the list goes on.

None of this fury and disappointment would be going on if Schröder and Co had been honest with the voters in the first place. With economic growth down to half a percentage point, consumer confidence down to nil, the banking system a wreck and the stock markets down by half of where they were just six months ago, there's been less money moving around in general, and specifically, into the government's coffers. Even as the bills kept coming in.

Something had to give. Taxes, hidden or not, aren't the answer, the Economist argues. But higher deficits are forbidden by the rules the Germans pretty much dictated themselves regarding European monetary union. So the old and new government has decided to spread the pain around as thinly as possible: hiding new taxes and squeaking over the three-percent deficit ceiling under cover of two excuses and a plea: Germany won't be the first to break the euro's rules (that was Portugal); and France and Italy are soon to follow. The plea: Make the rules more flexible.

That's the strategy: Rather than a blatant tax increase or a massive spending program, the Social Democrats and Greens have opted for a plethora of little broken promises, all disguised under a veil of deniability. And of course, if they'd been up front with the voters about all this before Election Day, they wouldn't have won.


The timing of the release of Stealing the Fire in the US can't make the German government too happy. The documentary traces the clandestine sale of vintage Third Reich-era nuclear technology to Iraq and, writes Dave Kehr, "takes on the exotic coloration of a postwar espionage thriller, something the novelist Eric Ambler might have conceived on a tramp steamer crossing the Black Sea."

As for movies from rather than about Germany, "arthouses are currently booming" with them, notes indieWIRE. Even if you're not lucky enough to be in New York in November to catch the films themselves, the program notes for Museum of Modern Art's kino 2002 offer a representative survey of what's been going on in German cinema over the last year or two. Recent reviews of two: Führer Ex, based on the life of former neo-Nazi Ingo Hasselbach, and Tom Tykwer's Heaven.

FAZ Weekly reports on a sensational find: 1200 letters, previously thought to have been lost, sent to Heinrich Mann before he went into exile.

We have, of course, known all along about the letters exchanged between Mann's more famous brother, Thomas, and Theodor Adorno. George Steiner reviews a new collection.

Two updates on Booking Losses: "It has history, it has drama, it has characters," writes Sara Nelson of the Frankfurt Book Fair; and, following the footsteps of Bertelsmann, the Holtzbrinck publishing group has begun to look into its own Nazi past. (David Hudson)