Embattled Fischer to facevisa inquiry in late April

1st April 2005, Comments 0 comments

31 March 2005BERLIN - Embattled German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer agreed on Thursday to face questioning in late April by a parliamentary inquiry into how hundreds of thousands of low-wage workers gained German tourist visas with ease between 2000 and 2003.

31 March 2005

BERLIN - Embattled German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer agreed on Thursday to face questioning in late April by a parliamentary inquiry into how hundreds of thousands of low-wage workers gained German tourist visas with ease between 2000 and 2003.

Members of his Greens party, who have sought for weeks to slow down the embarrassing inquiry, changed course, telling their Social Democrat coalition partners and other members of the panel that Fischer would testify on 25 April in Berlin.

Both the coalition and the opposition Christian Democrats claimed tactical success from the decision, which emerged from four hours of cross-party talks in the capital.

The coalition hopes convincing testimony from Fischer will defuse the crisis before a crucial state poll 22 May in North Rhine Westphalia, Germany's biggest state, where Social Democrats and Greens currently hold sway.

Fischer's former deputy, Ludger Volmer, who resigned in responsibility for the visa laxity, is expected to testify 21 April.

The opposition hopes to wring information out of the two men that adds to the impression that Fischer ignored underlings who implored him to close the visa loophole. The largest number of visas were issued in Kiev, Ukraine, where labour agents caught on to the trick.

Coalition deputies said they fixed the date in exchange for the opposition agreeing to a road-map for the inquiry.

Pollsters say Greens voters have stayed loyal to Fischer, but workers who usually vote Social Democrat have been angered at the perception that he freed up immigration. Sentiment has moved against foreigners amid fears that migrants are taking scarce jobs.

Up to 2,000 tourist visas valid for most of the European Union were being issued daily in Kiev to applicants unseen. All they needed to show was a travel-insurance policy.

While it is widely accepted that many did low-wage work without permission during their stay in the EU, Ukraine voiced outrage when Fischer critics suggested many of the travellers were crooks and prostitutes. Fischer abruptly cancelled the easy visas in 2003.

The minister meanwhile took the extraordinary move on Thursday of issuing an impassioned defence of his management of the Foreign Office and accusing his detractors of "politically inspired interference".

His remarks, published in Germany's biggest-selling newspaper, came after 70 German diplomats signed a protest letter against their boss for his decision to stop publishing obituaries in a house newsletter for personnel who were Nazi party members in their youth.

"There will be no honorific obituaries for the deceased staff members," Fischer said on Thursday.

In the face of the protest by diplomats, Fischer defended his six years as minister, saying: "My work with the vast majority of those in the Foreign Office has been excellent. But I am cognizant of the fact that the election campaign for the 2006 general election is clearly under way."

Fischer's decision to halt full obituaries for the tiny number of diplomats who were Nazi members came after a diplomat - who had been a Third Reich judge in German-occupied Czechoslovakia - had his past whitewashed out of a ministry eulogy.

The letter by the 70 active diplomats protested that many of those diplomats had been mere teenagers when they became nominal members of the Nazi party, sources told Deutsche Presse-Agentur.

In a jab at Fischer's past as a stone-throwing, 1968 left-wing radical who was photographed beating up a police officer, the letter obtained by DPA quotes the Bible and says: "Let him who is without sin among you cast the first stone."

DPA

Subject: German news

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