Podium: The New Centre excludes nobody

Gerhard Schroder From a speech setting out policy priorities by the German Chancellor to the Bundestag
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FOR THE first time in the Federal Republic's history the electorate have with their direct votes brought about a change of government. They have authorised the Social Democrats and the Greens to lead Germany into the next millennium. This change is a manifestation of democratic normality and of a greater democratic self-awareness. We can be proud that the people have rejected xenophobic tendencies.

We shall have to modernise government and industry, restore and underpin social justice, develop the European house economically, socially and politically in such a way that the common currency will be successful, press ahead with restoring Germany's inner unity, and above all ensure that unemployment is reduced, that existing jobs are preserved and new ones created.

For this we need new companies, new products, new markets. We need faster innovation, better training, and tax and contribution policies which take the strain off labour. This government will face up to this problem. And it will mobilise the country's creative energies.

Government action must be more accurately geared to our objectives and be made more economically efficient. The misuse of public funds must be stopped. We will concentrate subsidies and social benefits more than hitherto on the genuinely needy.

We said we did not want to do everything differently but to do many things better. We aim to reunite society, to overcome the country's deep social, geographic, conceptual and cultural divisions. We will make a determined effort to modernise Germany and foster internal unity. This change of government is also a change of generation in the life of our nation.

Our country is now being increasingly shaped by a generation who have had no direct experience of the Second World War. It would be dangerous to interpret this as abandoning our historical responsibility. Every generation leaves a mortgage for posterity. No one can claim to be exonerated because they were born after the Nazi terror.

Many of us were involved in the civil-rights movements of the Seventies and Eighties.

This generation upholds the tradition of public spirit and individual courage. They have grown up rebelling against authoritarian structures. Now it is they, and with them the nation, who are called upon to form a new political covenant, to do away with the stagnation into which the previous government led our country.

We are putting in their place a policy designed to encourage people to assume greater responsibility for their actions. This is what we mean by the New Centre. We will pursue this course on the basis of partnership.

Our most urgent and grievous problem continues to be mass unemployment. It leads to emotional distress and the collapse of social structures. It deprives some of hope and fills others with fear. In addition, it is costing the country 170 billion marks a year. The government is fully aware that one of the main reasons for its election is that it is expected to take effective steps to reduce unemployment.

We are facing up to this challenge. The tax reform we will be starting in the next few days will be the first step. We won't spend another 16 years discussing the need for such reforms or the pros and cons for the interest groups. We will actually carry out the tax reform.

We shall immediately embark on the path of ecological tax reform. By doing so we are carrying out a long overdue reversal of policy. Nature and energy as finite and thus scarce commodities will be made more expensive in order to make labour, of which there is plenty, cheaper. Let me repeat once again: the aim is not to tap another source of public revenue. Together with the energy industry and the environmental associations we shall be looking for new ways of supplying the country with energy. Nuclear energy is socially unacceptable. We will therefore phase it out in an orderly fashion.

To achieve a just reform of our welfare state, our guiding principle will be this: the welfare state will be judged not by the billions that are spent on it but by the quality of the service it gives to the citizen.

The New Centre excludes nobody. It represents solidarity and innovation, enterprise and civic spirit, ecological responsibility and leaders who see themselves as modern managers of opportunity.

This opportunity to build a modern Europe based on a social market economy and ecological responsibility is one we will boldly accept.

We are not making promises that cannot be kept.