Germans united against the extreme right?
The Bundestag this week condemned unanimously recent onslaughts on Jewish institutions and synagogues, as well as the presence of anti-Semitic attitudes in the German society. While the attacks were minor in physical scope, they were regarded as a dangerous sign of the escalation of right-wing violence.
Indeed, some had previously predicted a rise in anti-Semitism as the consequence of a lax reaction to the xenophobia that has claimed several dozen lives since 1990. Now, representatives of all parties in parliament claimed that the "entire society" was concerned with anti-Semitism.
Still, the government and opposition parties did not avoid quarrelling about proper terminology with regards to Jews in Germany's population. Opposition Christian Democratic leader, Friedrich Merz, was criticised for using the expression "Jewish fellow-citizens," which in the eyes of a Social Democratic deputy was "exclusionist." Instead, one should speak of "Jewish citizens."
Banning the NPD?
Merz drew even more criticism when he refused to join the government in its endeavour to forbid the National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD). Federal Chancellor Gerhard Schröder had announced that the government was, "in any case," now going to file a claim with the Federal Constitutional Court for prohibition of the right-wing extremist party which is held to be the single most important hub for the growing neo-Nazi information network in Germany. Schröder urged both houses of parliament to support them.
The opposition leader, in contrast, hinted at difficulties that might arise for the Court from such a large-scale approach. Moreover, he questioned—as had many, also within the centre-left Social Democrats—the wisdom of seeking legal prohibition of a party.
Not only would failure to obtain an appropriate ruling gravely damage the moral position of the "democratic parties," but it was also obvious that the said neo-Nazi network, while using the NPD's connections, was not dependent on the party and would easily find other vehicles for its propaganda.
The liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) shared this scepticism. Their Secretary General, Guido Westerwelle, called for more political education at all levels as a more promising strategy.
Industries too poor to pay?
The Federal Association of German Industries announced earlier this week that it was having difficulties in collecting the amount of money promised for the new national fund for the victims of slave labour during the Third Reich.
According to the law adopted by the Bundestag, the state (as successor to the Nazi regime) and corporations (as profiteers from slave labour during the Second World War) would pay DEM 5 billion (approximately USD 2 billion) each to the "National Foundation for Remembrance, Responsibility and the Future," from which compensation money shall be paid to surviving former slave labourers.
The political parties and other public personalities had urged to start the fund quickly, because most of the persons concerned are elderly.
Throughout this year, many big firms, known to have gained from slave labour during the war, showed an irritated hesitance to join the Bundestag's "foundation initiative," while a number of younger companies with no Nazi-related past had done so.
Now, according to the official statement of the representative of the German industry, it appears impossible to further increase the number of subscribers to the fund. But, by the same token, those already involved are not ready to increase their respective shares. The proposed solution: the missing amount shall be provided by the state-owned companies instead.
Parliament and government reacted with strong indignation to this suggestion. They stated adamantly that any change to the text of the foundation law-where the respective shares of public and private partners have been defined-was "entirely out of question." The state-owned companies did already contribute to the public half of the fund's sources.
Moreover, they called it disgraceful that thriving German industries should declare themselves unable to get DEM 5 billion together. Even under the original scheme, the corporations were to be reimbursed about half of the money in the form of tax reductions. The delay in implementing the pledge was the cause of serious international embarrassment.
The Association of German Farmers, one of Germany's most powerful pressure groups, has taken a stand on EU enlargement. Their chairman stated that they were clearly in favour of enlargement while at the same time insisting on "thorough preparation."
The farmers, who are known to be apprehensive in the face of Central and East European competitors, underscored the significance of clarifying issues surrounding the Common Agricultural Policy, implementing the rules of the Internal Market, and maintaining high environmental and health standards.
At the same time, they called for an immediate granting of the free movement of workers after accession. The latter issue seems to be linked to German and other EU-based farmers' interests in cheap seasonal workers from the neighbouring countries. In any case, it appears that this group will not be a source of resistance to enlargement of any of the Central European countries.
Eastward expansion—how far?
There is a silent revolution underway of the Federal government's attitude towards EU enlargement: namely who should be in the first wave (to use this officially outdated term). Ever since 1989, it had been a virtual mantra in German politics that neighbouring Poland would be the lead country in this process.
This was an expression not only of gratitude for the pivotal role of the Polish Solidarity movement for the downfall of Communism in Central Europe, but also for the fact that Poland is by far the largest and politically most important candidate country, as well as Germany's direct neighbour along a common border that stretches for 500 km.
But now, information has leaked from the Chancellery that the government might join Finland, Spain and others in urging for the "undelayed" entry of the three most advanced candidates—Estonia, Slovenia and Hungary. According to this argument—which is official in the EU—both the political and economic accession criteria will be strictly applied, with no economic exceptions granted for any political motives.
Poland is struggling to put its vast agricultural sector and its oversized mining industry in order in time for an early entry date. So far, it has been widely held that Germany would not allow enlargement to take place without Poland in the first wave.
Jens Boysen, 14 October 2000
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