>German and Israel Greys hit by scandal and splits

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Germany’s long-established, but consistently marginal, pensioners’ party Die Grauen have been hit by financial scandal, reports reports Kölnische Rundschau (10 October 2007) in a reference very kindly sent by Michael Koss. Four party leaders as well as the Greys’ charismatic founder and leader, 82 year old Trude Unruh are implicated in a scandal involving the faking of receipts for donations and (as I think) and holding of undeclared party meeting in the guise of educational seminars. 60 Officals from the regional public prosecutors office and tax authorities raided and searched 22 business premises associated with the party and foundations and associations linked to it in six cities in North Rhine Westphalen. Germany’s party financing regime offers reasonably generous funding for minor parties able to pull in at least 1 per cent (I think) of the national poll in federal elections – which Die Grauen have generally managed – and in 2006 the party received 1.3 million euros in Federal subsidies. Party spokesmen denied tax evasion or fraud, claiming the accusations were driven by personal resentments of members passed over (I think) in elections.

Trude Unruh, briefly a Bundestag MP between 1987 and 1990 as an independent co-opted on the Green list, made her name through fiery parliamentary speeches advocating old people’s interests, founded Grey Panthers movement as an advocacy group for older people in her home city of Wuppterpal in 1975.

As Flickr photographer rrho notes, the Greys have recently toned down the militant rhetoric of social protest, emphasing instead with a strong undercurent of populism that they are ‘young’ (at heart) and ‘neutral’, bringing some success in regional elections in Berlin last year, another of the party’s strongholds (relatively speaking), where they entered the city council.

Meanwhile, Israel News International reports Israel’s pensioners party, Gil, one of only two ‘grey’ parties actually in government (the other is in Slovenia) has also been hit by splits and scandal. Eralier this week Gil seemed to be acting as a classic small interest party exercising its ‘blackmail potential’ bythreatening to leave the Kadima-Labour-Shas coalition, unless it agreed to stump up for increased pensions. Cynics would see this an attempt to raise the party’s visibility after a slide in the polls, apparent However, Gil has lost support in recent polls because of its backtracking on several campaign promises and internal scandals (yes, here too!) concerning an alleged sexual assault on a party activist by a Gil deputy, financial impropriety (adding an unauthorised signatory with the power to draw on party accounts) and violations of campaign contribution laws.

In the Israeli context, in addition to an ageing population and a growing number of retirees, pension issues are further complicated by the fact that 11% of the country’s 729,577 pensioners (as of August 2007) receive only a basic pensioner entitlement stemming from the fact of having immigrated to Israel when already past official retirement age (61 years four months for women and 66 years four months for men). Pensioner poverty is also high with 26% of pensioners or their spouses receiving supplementary benefits from the state. The leader of the Gil parliamentary group, Moshe Sharoni, also made its continuation in the coalition condition that no proposals for the division were agreed by the government.

However, Ha’aretz and Jersualem Post later reported, Sharoni’s line now seems to have been more of a personal initiative, which antagonised other Gil deputies who voted 4-3 to remove him from his post, raising the likelihood that Israeli’s Greys – true to the country’s traditions of fissiparous minor party politics – will split. His critics objected to him breaching coalition agreements by unsuccessfully trying to push through a bill hiking pensions by a massive 20% (from 16% to 20% of average salary – not too high in relative terms) usuing his post as Chair of the Knesset Labour and Welfare Committee. His recent statements about female party employees and the Israel courts have also beeen considered embarassing.

Top photo: rrho
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