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Vol 2, No 14
10 April 2000
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News Review for Germany News from Germany
All the important news
since 1 April 2000

Jens Boysen

President Johannes Rau during his three-day (6 April to 8 April) visit to Turkey found a friendly reception, notably by out-going President Sleyman Demirel, and expressed his optimism about further progress in the rapprochement between the European Union and the long-term applicant for membership in the "European club." Rau emphasized the need for Turkey to address, without reservations, its insufficient human rights record, as the one issue on which the EU could not possibly go soft. President Demirel confirmed that human rights abuses "existed" in his country.

Abuses of human rights are well known to have been committed for decades by the military, which claims a special role within the secular state as protector against Islamism and guardian of the "hot" eastern borders. "European-minded" politicians have for a long time urged the EU to give Turkey a membership perspective with which to win over the population for a non-authoritarian type of reform. After years of refusal, the European Council established such a perspective at its Helsinki Summit of December 1999.

Germany is of special importance for Turkey as a partner. Not only is its voice crucial for any enlargement, but it has by far the largest (roughly two-million strong) Turkish community within the EU. German conservative politicians still oppose Turkey's application, because they perceive too large a "cultural gap"; even they, however, recognise a special partnership with Ankara.

Children or Indians?

This week, a fiery debate continued between Chancellor Gerhard Schröder (Social Democrats, SPD) and Jürgen Rüttgers (Christian Democrats, CDU) over the government's decision to issue "Green Cards" to 10,000 Indian computer and multimedia specialists. The move aims counter a growing lack of such experts on the national labour market and the related danger of Germany falling behind in these "future industries." The conservative CDU opposes this plan, fearing an additional immigration burden. It argues in favour of re-training unemployed Germans and increasing investment in computer training in schools.

Jürgen Rüttgers, chairman of the CDU in the Land of North-Rhine Westfalia, is presently leading the campaign for the 14 May regional elections. Lagging clearly in the polls behind ruling Social Democrat Minister President Wolfgang Clement, he has "spiced up" the campaign by introducing the anti-immigration slogan "Kinder statt Inder" (Children instead of Indians). This has earned him accusations of fostering racism from the coalition parties, SPD and Greens, as well as from the left-wing oppositionist PDS (Party of Democratic Socialism, former East German Communist Party).

Becoming German

In the same field of policy, and accompanied by harsh criticism from the CDU, in 1999, the then new centre-left Red-Green government adopted a new citizenship law in order to facilitate naturalisation of foreigners living in Germany. The old law, dating from 1913, had all but restricted the option for citizenship to persons of entire or partial German ethnic origin. After the Second World War, the law was preserved in order to secure quick integration for German Rücksiedler (re-settlers) from Central and Eastern Europe. At the same time, the de-facto immigration since the 1950s of millions of Gastarbeiter (guest workers), during the Wirtschaftswunder (economic miracle) boom period, failed to be addressed by all political parties, as was recently stated by Saxony's Minister President Kurt Biedenkopf (CDU).

Today, Germany has about four million "foreigners," many of whom have been born in the country and show signs of cultural disorientation. The German debate is essentially about different meanings of "integration." At present, the bulk of de-facto immigrants comes from South European countries, but in the future the issue will also concern Central and East Europeans. The German government is now pressing hard for common citizenship standards to be established within the European Union.

With the new law in force since 1 January 2000, the demand seems to exist. A recent poll shows that 13 per cent of the members of the most numerous foreign communities in Germany are intending to apply for citizenship, theoretically between 400,000 to 500,000 persons. Although apparently modest, such an amount would be a considerable increase compared to the extremely small naturalisation rate of former years and may well grow over the next years. To this must be added the future number of "foreign" children born in Germany who now, under the new law, have the option of German citizenship, to be confirmed on their 18th birthday.

Or even Bavarian?

Still, Germany is a federal country. This fact, while based on historical tradition and, after 1945, invoked as a safe-guard against "authoritarian centralism," has also provided the political parties with an additional power-play field. As a rule, the party in opposition on the national level, recovers support in some of the Länder and then targets the federal government from there. The Länder, via the Bundesrat (second, federal chamber of Parliament), must confirm many laws adopted by the Bundestag (first, national chamber); moreover, the Länder largely act as executors of those laws and have considerable administrative powers at their discretion.

Not only do the richer Länder scrupulously control the redistribution of public revenue, but all of them jealously guard their prerogatives, notably in the field of "culture," a notoriously ill-defined and thus flexible term. Public museums, castles and parks are managed by the Länder; so are schools and universities, most of them suffering under an educational particularism which has hampered their modernisation and even rendered highly complicated the mutual recognition of diplomas between certain Länder.

Another feature of this system is of significance to potential applicants for German citizenship. Earlier, the CDU-led Länder - usually under the lead of the CSU, the Bavarian wing of the CDU - had already announced that they would reserve the right to make applicants sit exams on German language and culture to verify their capacity to assimilate. The Red-Green national government, not ready to tighten conditions on the federal level, is likely to leave the issuing of such directives to the Länder. This would leave the new law with different "faces" when it comes to technicalities: more restrictive in conservative-led Länder, more liberal in SPD-led ones.

Still not one

A continuing rift in economic terms between what used to be West and East Germany (GDR), was highlighted by the fact that despite a national foreign trade surplus in 1999 of DM 124.8 billion (EUR 62.5 billion) - the third largest ever - exports from the East German regions have dropped by 7 per cent. This is explained by experts as an effect of the collapse of the Russian market in 1998, with which East German producers still had considerable links. On the whole, East German production accounts for merely 3.5 per cent of all German exports, although 20 per cent of the population live in the "new Länder."

The background to this is the all but complete scrapping of East German production capacity after reunification. Then, West German companies bought out most of the former GDR factories, only to close them down. Ever since, they have been using the East predominantly as a consumption area; investment has been largely public and in infrastructure. Thus, paradoxically, East Germans are being equipped with the most modern telecommunications and transport infrastructure in Europe but are unable to produce more than a tiny fraction of the revenue that would be necessary to finance those public goods.

As a result, East Germany not only absorbs huge annual funds from the federal and Western Länder budgets, but many young East Germans leave for Berlin or West German industrial areas to make a living. All these are reasons for the growing East German Sonderbewusstsein (feeling of being different), expressed in a nostalgia of regional products but also in the steady electoral success of the "post-Socialist" Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), seen by many as a lobbyist for the regional society.

Insistent neighbours

Yet, the East German predicament looks probably quite different in the eyes of neighbours just across the EU border. On his visit to Brussels this week, Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek expressed his concern about alleged ambigious statements made by the EU member governments at the recently launched Intergovernmental Conference, regarding the likely entry dates for Poland and the other candidate countries presently negotiating for EU accession. Any delay of their admission, he said, would seriously weaken public support in those countries for the integration process.

Specifically, he challenged German (and Austrian) reservations about the "threat" of massive Polish labour immigration. According to Buzek, not only were such flows unlikely to materialize in general, but even today, about 200,000 jobs in Germany had been created thanks to the de-facto inclusion of Poland in the German economy as a source of cheap labour. Thus, he argued, Germany had already profited from Poland's pre-accession status and should thus not hamper its final entry.

Professional help

Foreign policy remains a source of trouble for the government. After the account of the Kosovo war had already raised questions about the conduct of Defence Minister Rudolf Scharping, this week the cabinet had to face charges from all parties, including the ruling ones, about an official visit of the head of the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND; Federal Intelligence Service - the German secret service acting abroad and fighting espionage), August Hanning, to the Russian authorities in Chechnya. The cabinet spokesman did not disclose any details but confirmed that the Russian counterpart of the BND had made a formal inquiry to Berlin for information about "international terrorism in the Caucasus region" and that there existed a G-8 agreement on exchange of such data.

The parliamentary groups are now very eager to learn whether, via this channel, the government might have effectively helped Moscow to crush Chechen resistance. This, as a Green representative said, would be quite at odds with the stance on Chechnya ostentatiously taken by Germany and the other EU countries.

Jens Boysen, 7 April 2000

Moving on:


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Der Spiegel
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Sam Vaknin
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Slovak TV and Drugs

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Elke de Wit
Dreaming in Colour

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One Last Lunge at Freedom

Culture Calendar:
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