Central Europe Review Call forpolicy proposals...
Vol 3, No 18
21 May 2001
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News from Germany News from

All the important news
since 12 May 2001

Jens Boysen


Money at long last

After long and varied delays, the Bundestag is finally expected to state "legal safety" for German companies in the USA very soon, which is a necessary precondition for the beginning of payments
View today's updated headlines from Germany
to former slave and forced labourers in Nazi Germany.

Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, together with Special Plenipotentiary Otto Graf Lambsdorff, will talk to the parliamentary party leaders in order to set up an agenda for this process. He expects it to be finalised by the beginning of the parliamentary summer break in July.

Previously, an American court in New York had turned down a last&—now rather formal&—appeal by lawyers of American Nazi victims to charge a group of German companies. Now, pending the all-important declaration by the Bundestag, the joint DEM ten billion (EUR 5.2 billion) compensation fund can start handing out payments.


Whose foreign policy?

The Chancellory and the Foreign Ministry have got into a row over a report written by the German ambassador to the USA, Jürgen Chrobog, on the occasion of Chancellor Schröder's visit to Washington earlier this year.

Chrobog recorded a meeting on 29 March between Schröder, US President George W Bush, US Secretary of State Colin Powell and security expert Condoleeza Rice. Schröder was accompanied by Chrobog himself and by Chancellory Counsellor on Foreign Policy Michael Steiner.

According to Chrobog's notes, during the talks Steiner mentioned a statement made to him by Libyan leader Ghadafi in which the latter allegedly regretted his earlier involvement in terrorist acts in Europe, including a 1986 attack on the Berlin club La Belle. This statement, if verifiable, would have a great impact on the trial of the La Belle case curently on the roll in Berlin.

Now the judges want to interrogate Chrobog and Steiner, but the latter has denied having mentioned what was written in the report. After its publication (it had been given the lowest possible security status) by Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the Chancellory refused to make further comments of any kind.

The actual significance of this incident relates to the question of who is actually guiding German foreign policy, the Foreign Ministry or the Chancellory.

In fact, German diplomatic reports that concern the Chancellor are already submitted to the Chancellory first, before being circulated in the Foreign Ministry itself. Ambassador Chrobog, who is set to become under secretary in the Foreign Ministry, simply acted accordingly. Furthermore, at the time of submission, Steiner had no objections to the report (which he himself controlled).

The quarrel would be less meaningful were it not for the distribution of power between the two governmental institutions—which is equivalent to that between the coalition partners at federal level, the Social Democrats and the Greens. Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer can hardly afford having more effective influence being wrestled from his hands by a notoriously growing Kanzlerdemokratie (personal agency-supported government of the Chancellor).


CDU proposal draws PDS support

The political battle in the aftermath of the "first (and last) state of workers and peasants," the former German Democratic Republic (GDR), has led to an as yet unseen co-operation between the right-wing Christian Democrats (CDU) and their customary hate object, the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), successor to the former GDR state party SED.

This week, the Bundestag has had to agree on higher pensions for former GDR functionaries and civil servants, following a ruling by the Federal Constitutional Court. To compensate for this politically doubtful favouring of the "perpetrators" (which has its due parallel in the way former Nazi functionaries received state pensions in the Federal Republic after 1949), both the CDU and the PDS introduced motions to allow for special financial support for different groups of regime victims.

While the CDU was focussing on "victims of illegal persecution," ie political opponents, the PDS targeted people who, at the time, were denied certain educational or professional options because of any type of non-conformist behaviour. Probably enraged by a stubborn Red-Green majority, the PDS voted for the CDU's proposal.

In turn, the Christian Democrats, whilst not supporting the PDS motion&—still something of an anathema&—at least avoided voting against it, as they usually would have done; this represents a new and rather unusual situation in German politics at federal level.

Jens Boysen, 18 May 2001

Moving on:


Süddeutsche Zeitung
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
Der Spiegel
Die Zeit

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