Auf Wiedersehen, 'Vorsprung durch technik': jobless Germans may have to give up their Audis

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The Independent Online

Jobless Germans could be forced to surrender anything but the cheapest of cars to keep their benefit payments flowing, if a plan by conservative politicians goes ahead.

The latest bid to make drawing Germany's traditionally generous social benefits less attractive would see the long-term unemployed forced to shun high-end "Vorsprung Durch Technik" Audi convertibles, BMWs and Mercedes S Class cars for distinctly lesser models.

The Christian Democrat MPs' plans, leaked this week to a German news magazine, would put a limit of €10,000 (£6,750) on the value of cars owned by the unemployed - and restrict car ownership to one per (unemployed) household. Anything ritzier would have to be sold.

Courts have previously blocked attempts to force the sale of flash cars owned by some of Germany's 4.2 million unemployed, but taxpayers have become increasingly enraged by the ability of those on the dole to maintain expensive cars and aspirational lifestyles. One 53-year-old from the state of Hesse was recently caught out driving his Porsche to moonlight as a book-keeper, in addition to drawing more than €100,000 in benefits. Another notorious welfare-scrounger is "Florida Ralf" who, it emerged, had lived in luxury for years in Florida, supported only by German benefits.

"I need our car to drive my daughter around or to get to job interviews," protested one 43-year-old unemployed Berlin haulage driver, who owns a sleek silver VW Golf. And other politicians have called the proposal abhorrent - while admitting there is some logic in not paying benefits "to someone who has a brand new Ferrari standing outside their house," says Dirk Niebel of the Free Democratic Party.

But, he adds, "at a time when we're demanding individuals, particularly the unemployed, to be more mobile, such measures are counterproductive."

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