Germany's Merkel takes aim at executive salaries
BERLIN Dec 11 (Reuters) - Germany's conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel urged employers to take heed of a public outcry about excessive corporate pay on Tuesday and said top executives should be open about their earnings.
Merkel, head of the Christian Democrat (CDU) party which traditionally pursues business-friendly policies, stressed she had no plans to impose a legal cap on salaries.
But she pleaded for restraint and transparency.
"No one is against rewarding success," Merkel said in a speech to the German Employers' Association, adding, however, that Germans were starting to get angry about executives who took big risks which were not reflected in their salary.
"My plea is: take this debate seriously. Do not dismiss it as a jealousy debate, do not brush it aside."
"The more openly industry embraces this debate, so much the better for our society," she said, mentioning the possibility of a voluntary code for firms.
Top bosses in Germany generally earn significantly less than their counterparts in the United States or Britain, and many German companies publish only an overall total for the board's pay and do not break down individuals' salaries.
German media have homed in on fat cat pay, especially as disposable income is falling for employees on lower incomes.
Pictures of a smiling Wendelin Wiedeking, chief executive of sports car maker Porsche (PSHG_p.DE), have covered the pages of national newspapers in the last few days amid reports he earned 60 million euros ($88 million) this year.
The Social Democrats (SPD), partners in Merkel's fractious coalition, are championing the cause, and have set up a working group to look into the possibility of drawing up legislation.
The SPD is keen to stop million-euro pay offs for executives who have made bad decisions.
German media have contrasted the likes of Wiedeking -- widely seen as having done a good job at Porsche -- with chiefs such as Daimler's (DAIGn.DE) former chief executive, Juergen Schrempp. He walked away with millions in a pay off and stock options as his merger with U.S. automaker Chrysler unravelled.
Some economists are worried Merkel is jumping on a bandwagon and think she is moving too far to the left to win votes from centrist SPD supporters before state elections next year. The SPD has itself adopted a more left-leaning agenda in the last few months as it tries to win back traditional supporters.
"Whoever believes this can be regulated in law is barking up the wrong tree," Employer Association President Dieter Hundt told the gathering.
"We want the best managers and they are in demand across the world. Managers' salaries in Germany are not high in international comparison."
Business is also alarmed by the government's agreement to introduce a minimum wage in the postal sector and to reverse some labour-market reforms introduced by former SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. (Editing by Quentin Bryar)
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