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Not Different, but Better (November 10, 1998)

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According to the latest established figures, in the medium term, the annual new debt must be reported as up to 20 billion DM higher than the financial plan shows. I cannot and will not accept that. Therefore, I will say this right from the start: the financial situation that we have inherited forces us to embark on a decisive course of consolidation.

We will not be able to avoid structural interventions. All federal expenditures must be scrutinized. Government actions need to be more precise and more economical, and the abuse of welfare payments must be curtailed. We will have to make sure that subsidies and social benefit payments are more clearly directed to the truly needy than they have been up to this point.

The citizens do not expect us to do everything at once. But they are entitled to demand that we do more than talk – that we act. And [they are entitled to demand] that politics finally focuses on the people once again.


We said that we don’t want to do everything different, we just want to do many things better. We will keep our word. We say this to those who want to continue fighting campaign battles, those doomsayers who spread this paralyzing pessimism that has prevented our country from taking the necessary steps to adapt to reality for long enough.

But we will also call out to those who feel that present decisions don’t go far enough. We want to bring all parts of society together and overcome the deep social, geographical, and mental and cultural division that our country is facing.

We will modernize Germany with resolve and valiantly advance our internal unity. This requires an uncompromising assessment of the situation. Also and above all: we need to focus on our strengths. And trust that we can get the job done.

This government change is also a generational change in the life of our country. Today our country is being increasingly shaped by a generation that did not personally experience the Second World War. It would be dangerous to misconstrue this as an abandonment of our historical responsibility. Every generation leaves a legacy for the next one; no one can talk himself out of anything by mentioning the “blessing of being born late.”*

For some, this generational change presents a great challenge. One look at the government bench or into this parliament shows what influenced the vast majority of us politically. Here are biographies of lived democracy.

We have experienced and participated in the cultural upheaval that followed the time of restoration. Many of us were involved in the civic movements of the 1970s and 1980s. The civil rights groups of the former GDR, which, together with the East German Social Democrats, shaped the peaceful revolution, are part of this government. This generation stands in the tradition of public spirit and civil courage. It has grown up by protesting authoritarian structures, by trying out new social and political models.

* Here, Schröder was referring to Helmut Kohl’s reference in his 1984 speech before the Israeli Knesset to his enjoying the “blessing of being born late” [“die Gnade der späten Geburt”] as Kohl was too young to carry guilt from the Nazi period – trans.

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