Uneasy coalition against extremism
In a special session on Thursday 28 September, all political parties represented in the Bundestag have unanimously expressed their condemnation of the growing right-wing extremism, and pledged to take effective, sustained action against it. Speakers of party clubs said it would not be appropriate to wait for this problem to disappear by itself.
For months already, a broad campaign has been running with politicians and other VIPs calling for a strengthening of German Zivilcourage (positive civic behaviour implying resistance to neo-Nazi propaganda). The campaign has been criticised as too abstract and detached. It has likewise suffered credibility problems because of what appears to be the "sudden awakening" of public actors to a decade-old phenomenon.
Even during their unusually harmonious appearance in Thursday's session, the parties in the Bundestag did not conceal existing differences as to how the rightist danger should be addressed. The opposition of Christian Democrat and Christian Social Unions (CDU/CSU) urged the ruling centre-left parties not to suppress an open debate over the causes of xenophobia in post-reunification Germany. They insisted that future immigration policy would have to be based more clearly than hitherto on "national interest" and take into account the absorption capacity of the indigenous population. The Social Democrats and Greens, in contrast, emphasised the need to secure the physical security of everyone residing in Germany, saying that immigration was a completely different matter.
Immigration and asylum
After months of painful debate, the EU Ministers of the Interior adopted a new refugee fund of EUR 216 million this week. It is aimed at meeting the costs of refugee accommodation and support in the EU countries. This issue has become economically significant through the refugee flows triggered especially by the Bosnian and Kosovo crises.
The fund's money will be distributed among EU member states according to the share of refugees any country has accepted during a year. For Germany this means a share of 30%. Although the German government agreed to the fund, it keeps insisting on a more even sharing of the "physical burden." As yet, there is no provision for an equal redistribution among the member states of arriving refugees, and the other EU countries are more than reluctant to adopt such a provision.
By experience, a disproportionate number of refugees coming to the EU have sought shelter in Germany. This is the case, apparently, not only because of the country's relative geographic proximity to the south-east European region (and other strife-torn regions further east), but as well to its still comparatively liberal asylum laws; many refugees tend to try staying on as political refugees after their specific status as "war refugees" expires.
The complexities of this situation have dominated the debate on immigration in Germany. The pivotal question is whether immigration and asylum should be treated as linked issues or as separate ones. On the one hand, the conservative CDU/CSU seek a trade-off between the two "clientele groups," claiming that what matters is the aggregate number of immigrants, regardless of their specific status. On the other hand, the left parties like the Social Democrats and Greens (supported in this case by the right-wing liberal Free Democrats) want to keep the policies on asylum and immigration apart. They insist that, while immigration was indeed an instrument to be used with a view to national interest, the right of asylum must be unconditional in any political situation. They cling to the historical genesis of the right to asylum in the Federal Republic as a genuine reaction to Nazi policies of expulsion and genocide, used primarily against Jews.
As long as the burden issue is not resolved—and it does not remotely look like it will be—Germany will remain sceptical of EU initiatives towards integrated policies in these fields. Under the Amsterdam Treaty, the European Commission has been charged, not least as a result of German pressure, with preparing a common asylum policy by 2004.
However, its most recent and related proposal, which imposes minimum standards for the treatment of asylum-seekers on EU territory regardless of their country of origin, has encountered severe German scepticism. This provision does not account for Germany's elaborate "safe third country" scheme, under which it reserves the right to immediately return applicants arriving from any of Germany's neighbouring countries.
The Commission proposal aims precisely to ease the burden of those neighbouring candidate countries which at present serve as the "storage room" for thousands of people, primarily from the former Soviet Union and Asia, wishing to enter the EU. Germany, in turn, fears becoming the main destination of these migrants, with fourteen less than sympathetic fellow-member states.
In the same vein, the French EU presidency has recently suggested the introduction of qualified majority voting (QMV) in the field of asylum policy. Yet, unless German compensation claims are met, there will be no endorsement of this step. Moreover, the French came forward with the idea of unifying the rights granted to any citizens of third-world countries living in the EU, including notably the right of "family reunion." Here again, Germany senses a built-in uneven burden distribution. As it stands, the future of refugees in the EU will depend largely on the political culture between the member states. Germany, though under a left-wing government, has said farewell to the paymaster's role of the last 50 years.
Business with Moscow
During his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Federal Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has agreed on a twenty-year delivery deal for oil and gas from Siberia. Similar to the 1980s German-Soviet "gas for tubes" deal, Western companies will provide new material and equipment for the often unreliable Russian pipelines. In turn, Western Europe will receive Russian gas and oil. Schroeder, according to his own words, acted explicitly on behalf of the EU and NATO countries. However, his role as speaker was clearly based on the "special relationship" maintained between Berlin and Moscow.
Jens Boysen, 2 October 2000
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