Federal Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has urged German corporations to fulfill their obligations to the recently established national fund for the victims of forced labour in Nazi Germany. After lengthy debates in March, the Federal government's special plenipotentiary, former Federal Minister of Economics Otto Graf Lambsdorff, struck a deal with Stuart Eizenstat, the speaker for the American victims' lawyers. The agreement envisaged the establishment of a DEM 10 billion (EUR 5 billion) fund, with DEM 5 billion to be paid by both the government and the corporations, respectively. By now, of the corporations' DEM 5 billion share only DEM 2.2 billion have been paid to the fund.
Already there have been threats from representatives of the victims' associations to publish the names of a number of companies that profited from forced labour during the war. Such a move would entail the placing of severe obstacles in the way of these companies doing business in the USA. The whole deal aims to protect German corporations from further law suits by paying compensation in one lump sum.
Chancellor Schröder called on German businesses to follow the letter of the agreement, otherwise any failure would be both economically and morally damaging to Germany.
A Bavarian call for more subsidiarity and solidarity
Bavarian Minister President, Edmund Stoiber, at a speech in Brussels, has demanded the reform of the EU's structural funds in order that member states be given far-reaching discretion on how and where to use the funds' money. Stoiber said that not only did the member states know best where support was needed, he also criticised the lack of efficiency in the system: Out of an overall annual sum of DEM 51 billion (EUR 25.5 billion), some DEM 31 billion (EUR 15.5 billion) goes back to the net contributors, thus creating unnecessary bureaucracy.
Moreover, Stoiber doubted the usefulness of the Agenda 2000 strategy for managing enlargement in the agricultural sphere. Instead of excluding the candidate countries entirely from the compensation payment scheme for farmers, the Common Agricultural Policy should be reformed and strengthened towards including a strong element of national co-financing.
Stoiber also critisied the present EU budget planning round for 2001 to 2006, some EUR 686 billion has only had EUR 80 billion bookmarked for accession support payments.
In general, he spoke out against the Commission's political supervision in the prerogative fields of the German Länder and other regions, such as education and health care. Here, Stoiber said, no competition should be allowed to destroy home grown structures.
Yet, he did not forget to request special support for the Bavarian border regions which he described as "being in an extraordinary situation."
Berlin between Paris and Brussels
The Commission's budget proposal for 2001 envisages a considerable contribution (EUR 300 million) to be taken from the agricultural budget in order to finance the EU's Kosovo engagement. This is happening thanks to the adamant calls of the EU's External Relations Commissioner, Chris Patten, for the EU to finally live up to its lofty commitments to the reconstruction of South-East Europe taken in 1999.
Unfortunately, France as the main profiteer from the Common Agricultural Policy, is unlikely to defend this policy at all costs. And the German government seems to be ready to sacrifice the EU's international credibility for the sake of keeping the "German-French motor" (or what remains of it) alive. Usually, common resistance of the Big Two is hard to overcome in the Council. Now, it might be left to Parliament to join up with the Commission as the "moral majority".
Jumping the Bohemian Forest
Czech President Václav Havel's state visit to Germany took place in a very friendly atmosphere. A bit too cosy for representatives of the opposition who charged Chancellor Schröder with not having mentioned the need to repeal the 1946 Beneš Decrees [former President of Czechoslovakia] which at the time served to legally justify the expulsion of the Sudeten Germans and have never been formally revoked. [This is a matter of debate. The transfer of the ethnic German population from the former Czechoslovakia was, in fact, legally justified by Article 13 of the Potsdam Conference of 1945. However, the Federal Republic of Germany has never ratified this agreement. Ed]
Critics said this was in contradiction with Havel's expressed hope for future "unprejudiced" contact between the two neighbours; it was imperative for the Czechs to repeal the Beneš Decrees before entering the EU. Havel himself and others came out immediately after the "Velvet Revolution" to condemn the decrees; these reformers have repeatedly stated that the decrees had "effectively" expired. However, nobody has yet taken an initiative to make them history. As yet, they are applicable laws discriminating against the former German population of the Czech lands.
Jens Boysen, 13 May 2000
ZDF (Public German TV) Online News
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung