Court orders resumption of inquiry into Fischer
15 June 2005, KARLSRUHE - Germany's high court on Wednesday delivered a potentially embarrassing slap to Gerhard Schroeder's faltering centre-left coalition by ruling that a parliamentary inquiry into Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer's visa policies must be resumed.
15 June 2005
KARLSRUHE - Germany's high court on Wednesday delivered a potentially embarrassing slap to Gerhard Schroeder's faltering centre-left coalition by ruling that a parliamentary inquiry into Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer's visa policies must be resumed.
The German Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe upheld a challenge filed by opposition parties against Schroeder's Social Democrats and coalition Greens party partners.
The opposition Christian Democrats (CDU-CSU) and Free Democrats (FDP) had gone to court after the SPD-led commission of inquiry voted to stop taking evidence and write a report in time for the upcoming dissolution of the Bundestag and a general election.
Judges agreed, saying the commission must continue the inquiry until the election, expected in September, is formally called.
That means Fischer and other foreign office officials may have to undergo politically damaging questioning in nationally-broadcast parliamentary hearings during the election campaign.
Another coalition official who may be called upon to testify is Interior Minister Otto Schily, a Social Democrat. After Wednesday's ruling was handed down, Schily issued a statement saying he "of course" would be willing to testify.
"I'm sure I can contribute to clarifying this whole matter," Schily said.
Other Social Democrats were clearly taken aback by the court ruling.
"We were totally surprised but we will act in accordance with the ruling," said Volker Neumann, SPD chairman of the parliamentary committee.
Opposition conservatives predictably called the high court ruling a victory for themselves.
"The centre-left coalition has suffered a major defeat," said CDU official Eckart von Klaeden in Berlin. "Their disregard for legal and constitutional standards has been a hallmark of this case."
Fischer and senior foreign office officials are accused of ignoring large-scale abuse of visa rules, especially in Ukraine, that allegedly allowed criminals and prostitutes to enter western Europe without further checks.
In a precedent-setting move, the parliamentary panel conducting the hearings allowed live television coverage of testimony by Fischer. It was the first time that TV cameras have been allowed into such a committee hearing.
Speaking before the committee in recent weeks, Fischer said he "took full responsibility" for irregularities in issuance of visas abroad, particularly in Eastern Europe.
Under Fischer, Germany in March 2000 radically liberalised the country's formerly tough policy on granting visas to people many diplomats feared could be economic migrants.
Under the new system the number of people claiming to be tourists arriving in Germany from countries such as Ukraine and Russia sharply increased.
In Ukraine there were 217,000 visa applications in 2000, before the law came into force, and in 2001 under the new law 330,000 people applied for German visas, of which just 10 percent were rejected.
Some of these people were legitimate tourists, but German officials say many came to work illegally. Many women allegedly came from eastern Europe to work in the booming prostitution sector.
Subject: German news