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Vol 3, No 6
12 February 2001
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News from Germany News from

All the important news
since 3 February 2001

Jens Boysen


Army reduction—Y not?

View today's updated headlines from Germany

The German Army (the Bundeswehr) has had a "Y" on the license plates of its vehicles since 1955. This symbol may now be removed as changes are made to German defence. Even the draft to serve under the general conscription scheme has been under discussion for a couple of years now, and may well be abolished at any moment due to the "thoroughly different conditions of German defence since 1990."

With these words, Defence Minister Rudolf Scharping has launched a plan for the reduction of army garrisons and related supply structures all over the country. He has done so in order to cut costs and force the revamping of the old territorial defence system into a more modern system, which would be more able to take on the tasks likely to arise under a European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP).

As was to be expected, mayors and civil workers for the Bundeswehr hold a more narrow view of this issue. They are set to fight over each single square meter of training ground and hangars as a source of local revenue, and of course the "cordial relationships" between garrisons and municipalities.

The minister insists that his scheme has already been tailored towards "minimum pain" for the local communities. However, Christian Democratic and Liberal opposition, who already had Scharping under fire for his (and other European ministers of defence) dubious role in dealing with the use of depleted uranium in Kosovo, now charge him with presenting "unreliable data and figures."


Back to the roots of good food?

New Minister for Consumer Protection and Agriculture—mind the word order—Renate Künast (Green Party) has announced a "turnaround in agriculture" (Agrarwende). This will prevent any repetition of the BSE scandal, which continues to haunt German and EU agricultural policy. Still, it looks as though she will stick with the EU's decision to kill 400,000 cows to stabilise the market for beef.

Echoing a like-minded ally, EU Commissioner Franz Fischler, Künast called for a renewed emphasis on quality in food production, serving the goal of "protecting consumers rather than the consumption circle" and to favour "quality over quantity" ("Klasse statt Masse"). Likewise, she gave out a slogan derived from the famous German purity law for beer: In future, in German cows there will be "only water, grain and grass."


Will Kohl get away with a slap on the wrist?

Former chancellor Helmut Kohl's post-slush fund odyssey—the repercussions of his use for a decade of slush funds to co-finance his Christian Democratic Union's campaigns and other activities, seems to be drawing to a soft end after about two years.

It has always been acknowledged by Kohl that he received about DEM 2 million (EUR 1.1 million) from "anonymous donators" whose names he refuses to tell to this very day. The Parliamentary Committee set up to investigate the affair has not been able to make Kohl talk, find other evidence for the identities of the donators, or prove that Kohl used the money to his personal advantage. As a result, everybody seems to be exhausted and Kohl, the master of "sitting-it-out," might have called the shots for a last time.

This week, the Committee lost hope when the interrogation of Alfred Sirven, former manager of the French Elf trust, led the parliamentarians nowhere. Sirven, who had been arrested in the Philippines and was later extradited to France, is supposed to have passed large bribes to German politicians in order to facilitate Elf's takeover of the East German Leuna petrol factories between 1993 and 1994.

The Federal Attorney's Office, in charge of criminal investigations against Kohl, announced it will drop the charge of betrayal against him provided he pays a fine of DEM 300,000 (EUR 160,000) to the Bonn Regional Court (Landgericht). This decision takes into account Kohl's efforts in 1999 and 2000 to undo the damage to his party, through collecting fresh money from friends, for its financial losses following the breaking of the slush fund affair.


Parliament delayed

A delay in the construction on the Bundestag's (parliament) support buildings may result in the parliament's work at Berlin remaining a provisional affair up to the end of 2002. Some 100 parliamentary workers are still commuting between Bonn and Berlin because—among other things—their offices are not yet ready to use.

According to a spokesperson, the finishing of the side buildings, which are to host the parliamentary library, archives and scientific service, are behind schedule because the construction company in charge claims it is not well-equipped. However, changing the company would lead an even greater delay.

In Berlin, it has been a point of ridicule for some time that the Bundestag is being built using a great deal of labour from Central European countries. It is said that these employing companies are not always faithful to legal requirements. However, the problem remains that there are not enough workers available in Germany.

Jens Boysen, 9 February 2001

Moving on:


Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
Frankfurter Rundschau
Süddeutsche Zeitung
Der Spiegel
Die Zeit

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