In his speech to the participants in the Summit the Council of Baltic Sea States (CBSS) in Kolding, Denmark (12-13 April), Chancellor Gerhard Schröder lauded the regional co-operation body as one of the "most dynamic regions of Europe," and announced an enhanced German engagement in it. He even called the Baltic area a "more important trade factor for Germany than the United States".
The CBSS comprises all countries bordering the Baltic Sea, and thus EU member-states and candidates as well as Russia, and also non-Baltic Norway and Iceland, which indicates its distinctly Nordic origin. Since 1992, it has served as a platform for policy cooperation, aimed at the development of a common regional approach notably to environmental and trade matters.
Its specific political significance lies in that it allows ever-mistrustful Russia to probe (even literally) the waters of regional co-operation, under the unsuspicious guidance of "friendly" Finland and "neutral" Sweden. The EU with respect of its forthcoming enlargement is trying to make use of the CBSS to check delicate issues like the accession of the (sensu stricto) Baltic countries and the likely "encirclement" of the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad by the EU.
Polish-German trade keeps growing. According to the official Federal economic statistics for 1999, Polish exports to Germany were worth USD 18 billion (EUR 18.75 billion), while imports from Germany accounted for USD 24.2 billion (EUR 25.22 billion). The Polish government explained the remaining deficit as an effect of growing German direct investment in Poland. With an aggregate sum of USD 6.1 billion (EUR 6.35 billion), Germany was the main foreign direct investor in 1999, ahead of the USA.
Since 1989, Germany has consistently been the main trading partner not only of Poland, but of most Central and East European countries, and by far their most important partner within the incumbent European Union. Given the reorientation of the CEECs' trade westwards and Germany's key geographic position, these trade relations are bound to keep growing, practically regardless of the details of EU enlargement. Ironically, this fact is one motive for many supporters of CEEC accession to the EU; it promises to counterbalance Germany's overwhelming weight in the regional economy.
The Oberlandesgericht (Regional Supreme Court) at Stralsund in the north-eastern Land of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern has sentenced five right-wing extremist youths to jail for between four and six years, for attempted murder. Motivated by racism, the five had almost beaten to death two Vietnamese in the small provincial town of Eggesin in August 1999. Exceptionally, although a local event, the case was taken up by the Federal Attorney because the crime was viewed as being a "threat to national public security".
The judges indirectly blamed the adult community of Eggesin for allowing their youths to be exposed to neo-Nazi ideology, notably through pop music with racist lyrics, and taking no action. Ever since the end of Communism, right-wing extremism and xenophobia have been an additional burden on the social reconstruction of former territory of the GDR, despite (or maybe because of) an extremely low percentage of foreigners among the regional population. Several times already, neo-Nazi youths in East German cities have chased, injured, and sometimes killed "foreign-looking" persons.
Harboured before 1989 by small groups as a fashionable expression of anti-Communism, this ideology has since attained a growing attractivity among a regional youth depressed by the still negative employment situation and left alone by a less than imaginative political class. In general, after 56 years of non-democratic rule between 1933 and 1989, the standing of Western-style liberal democracy is not always an easy one in the German east. Quick disenchantment with the "Western" parties rather than radicalism keeps driving many East German voters towards either abstention or political forces (at best) regarded as anti-Western, be it the post-Communist PDS as a "regional champion" or right-wing parties claiming to defend the "national interest". The latter point may be of importance for the practical side of EU enlargement, too.
See "The Re-Austrianisation of Central Europe" by Ian Hall and Magali Perrault
Growing organisation of neo-Nazis
However, there is a trend among right-wing extremists in the whole of Germany (and Europe, too) to shed the clumsy image of drunken skinheads and build a sophisticated network, by use of the latest IT tools. For the first time, an effective organisation of the ever-quarreling right-wing forces appears to be in reach.
At the same time, the readiness to act violently against political opponents is growing. An executive of IG Metall, the largest German trade union, in Elmshorn in the northernmost tip of Schleswig-Holstein has publicly been put on a "blacklist" by a local group of neo-Nazis, for his leading activity in a local anti-Nazi initiative. Blacklists of this kind have appeared elsewhere before, notably in Sweden. There, three neo-Nazis have just been convicted for the murder of the trade unionist Björn Söderberg who was one of a thousand persons "listed" via the use of publicly accessible personal data.
Growing pressure on refugees
The Land of North-Rhine Westfalia has cleared the path for Kosovar Albanian refugees to go back to their home province – literally. According to the Land Minister of the Interior, Fritz Behrens, land transit agreements have been signed with those countries lying on the way between Germany and Kosovo: Albania, Austria, Bosnia and Hercegovina, Croatia, Hungary, Italy, Slovenia, and Switzerland. From now on, the minister said, the Kosovars may return safely and with all their belongings by car; in turn, also from now on the pressure on part of the Länder governments to return will mount on the Kosovars.
In the same context, Amnesty International and the German NGO, Pro Asyl, have sharply criticised Federal Minister of the Interior Otto Schily. He has indicated that he wants to weaken the guarantees granted to political refugees by article 16 of the Basic Law in order to facilitate the harmonisation of EU immigration policies. Representatives of the organisations said it was both immoral and a wrong approach to seek a reduction of the general refugee problem through tampering with the law on political asylum, because all EU countries were bound to obey the stipulations of the Geneva Refugee Convention which, if consistently applied, gives refugees everywhere in Europe the right to a similar verification procedure as in Germany.
Growing funds for Nazi victims
The Bundestag (Federal Parliament) has started the adoption procedure for a law to indemnify persons working in forced labour under the Nazi regime, through a national fund bearing the name of Erinnerung, Verantwortung und Zukunft (Memory, Responsibility and Future). The fund will dispose of an aggregate sum of DM 10 billion (EUR 5.1 billion), with one half of the money to be contributed respectively by the state and by German corporations. Of this, DM 8.1 billion (EUR 4.14 billion) will be paid directly to survivors and DM 1 billion (EUR 0.5 billion) used to compensate for "Aryanisations" under the Nazi regime, while about DM 700 million (EUR 358 million) are earmarked for programmes in youth education and information on the Nazi period.However, the first payments have still to be made in 2000, as so far only one half of the corporations' share has been secured from about 1200 companies. The Bundestag is pressing for more, possibly all German companies to join the fund. Chancellor Gerhard Schröder underlined before the Bundestag that the settlement was to be linked to constant commemoration, but also meant a clear end to the reparation issue. Thereby, he refuted utterances by American political figures that, whilst the US would protect German corporations against any further law suits by private organisations, claims might still be pressed against Germany on behalf of US soldiers maltreated in German custody during WW II.
Jens Boysen, 15 April 2000