A top-level meeting of Germany's Social Democrats (SPD) failed Tuesday to resolve a dispute over the payment of benefits to the older unemployed that has split the party in recent weeks.
Deputy Chancellor and Labour Minister Franz Muentefering acknowledged that he had failed to convince SPD Chairman Kurt Beck to back away from plans to increase unemployment benefits to older recipients.
Muentefering, at 67 a party veteran, accepted that most in the SPD agreed with Beck, but insisted he had "good arguments" for his position. He had not thought of resigning his posts, he said.
Retraining and job promotion were preferable to paying full unemployment benefits for a longer period, Muentefering said, adding that the number of unemployed over-55s had fallen considerably over the past year.
"Creativity and imagination are needed, rather than extended benefits," he said.
At the end of last month, Beck suggested paying those older than 50 full unemployment benefits for two years rather than for 18 months as at present.
Those who had paid more into the unemployment fund were entitled to receive greater benefit, he said, noting that the unemployment fund was currently running a large surplus.
Muentefering, who played a key role in pushing through labour market reforms under former SPD chancellor Gerhard Schroeder four years ago, emphatically rejected Beck's proposals.
In an increasingly bitter exchange conducted through the German media, he accused Beck of populism in calling for some aspects of the Agenda 2010 programme to be rolled back.
Following the meeting with Muentefering in the south-western city of Mainz, Beck said the issue would now be put to a vote of the party's governing council on Monday, ahead of the SPD's party congress on October 27 and 28.
The conflict has caused deep division within the SPD, the junior partner in Chancellor Angela Merkel's broad coalition, with senior SPD members calling on Muentefering to withdraw his remarks.
The issue is also under debate within Merkel's Christian Democrats, and Merkel has said she is open to the idea, as long as it can be implemented in a "cost-neutral" way.
In a clear rebuke to Muentefering, Schroeder said the Agenda 2010 programme he had pushed through over considerable opposition within Germany's traditional party of the left were "not the Ten Commandments."
Speaking in Berlin Monday, the former chancellor said no one now interpreting the progamme should see himself "as Moses." dpa rpm sc gma