“The basic principle applies: no benefits without willingness for service in return,” said Westerwelle, who is foreign minister and vice chancellor in Germany's ruling centre-right coalition.
Westerwelle's comments signalled support for his party's deputy chairman Andreas Pinkwart, who recently demanded harsher consequences and lower benefits for those who receive Hartz IV welfare but aren't willing to find work.
The country must take action against such people who effectively take the social system's money from people who actually need it, Westerwelle said.
In these cases, there must be “rather pragmatically a cut in benefits” as a result, he said.
Westerwelle, dogged by weeks of criticism that his party had been ineffective in pushing its tax-cutting agenda as junior coalition party to Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats, has gone on the offensive in recent days. He has attacked Germany's welfare system and accused his critics of acting like socialists.
Meanwhile the foreign minister rejected criticism that his fiery rhetoric over welfare is cold-hearted. Instead, he said he has been speaking “in the interest of the tax payers,” and pointed to polls that show two-thirds of respondents believe their concerns are not adequately addressed in the welfare debate.
But earlier this week a poll by news magazine Stern showed Westerwelle's attempts to stir this debate have not stopped a precipitous slide in support for his party.
The dismal result came amid grumbling within Westerwelle's own party about his performance and suggestions that a poor result in an upcoming state election in North Rhine-Westphalia could even be a death knell for his leadership.
The party has lost half the 14.6 percent support it enjoyed during its triumphant performance in the federal election last September.