Fischer admits mistakes overvisas but refuses to resign

25th April 2005, Comments 0 comments

25 April 2005, BERLIN - A confident Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said on Monday he would not resign over the German government's lax visa rule - which was cancelled after abuses in 2003 - despite admitting he had made errors for which he took full responsibility. Asked by a parliamentary probe how he would take responsibility for the visas issued to ineligible east Europeans, Fischer said: "Taking responsibility means taking action to do things better ... to ensure they won't be repeated." He added tha

25 April 2005

BERLIN - A confident Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said on Monday he would not resign over the German government's lax visa rule - which was cancelled after abuses in 2003 - despite admitting he had made errors for which he took full responsibility.

Asked by a parliamentary probe how he would take responsibility for the visas issued to ineligible east Europeans, Fischer said: "Taking responsibility means taking action to do things better ... to ensure they won't be repeated."

He added that if his critics wanted "to remove me" then they should bring a resolution to parliament.

Minister Fischer said he should have been informed earlier of the problems and should have intervened earlier. "This was my mistake," he said in testimony to the Bundestag investigation.

Fischer dismissed opposition conservative claims of 5 million illegal visas being issued by Berlin to east Europeans as a fiction. He said there had been no big increase in illegal labour or crime carried out by foreigners under the rule in place from 2000 to 2003.

Most analysts say at least several hundred thousand visas were issued to people from countries including Ukraine, Russia and Albania who should not have got them during this period.

Given that Germany belongs to the European Union Schengen bloc of countries that have abolished all border controls, those arriving in Germany could travel on to countries like France, Spain or Portugal.

The German foreign ministry now has all problems under control, Fischer insisted.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's left-leaning government radically liberalised visa rules in 2000, partly at the urging of Fischer's Greens. "If in doubt decide for freedom to travel," said a key sentence in a directive sent to Germany's embassies in that year.

But after fake organised tours and the sale of a certificate by organised crime gangs in Ukraine which all but guaranteed a German visa, the programme was abolished in 2003 and tougher conditions for issuing visas were imposed.

The visa scandal is seen as the biggest threat Fischer has faced since taking office in 1998. In an unprecedented act of disloyalty, diplomats angry with Fischer have been leaking large numbers of documents related to the affair to the German media.

With unemployment of 12.5 percent the German government has been alarmed over allegations that Berlin's visa policy fuelled illegal foreign labour.

Schroeder's SPD is slumping in the polls in the run-up to regional elections in North Rhine-Westphalia state on 22 May and with the economy again weakening, the SPD fears the visa scandal could combine to hinder the Chancellor's own re-election bid next year.

Fischer's accepting personal blame marks a shift which had been demanded by the ruling SPD and Greens.

In February Fischer outraged his staff by saying he would take political responsibility for "possible oversights and mistakes of my diplomats." The implication was that Germany's embassies in Kiev and Moscow were at fault.

Asked by parliamentarians which diplomats were to blame, Fischer not only refused to name names but also sung the praises of those from his ministry serving in hardship posts where visa issues were especially complex.

Fischer attacked the opposition conservatives for, as he put it, tarring Ukraine with the image of being a state dominated by crime and prostitution.

"We wanted a Germany which was more open to the world and liberal," said Fischer, adding that the worst thing Germany could do was to keep out citizens from authoritarian countries, such as Ukraine under its old government or Belarus today. Travel rights aid reform and ease pressure for illegal immigration, he said.

"Belarus is the most urgent regional problem we now have. How do you want to reform Belarus without travel freedom?" said Fischer.

So far, most German diplomats who have testified at the Bundestag probe have said they opposed the liberalised visa system and sought to prevent it from being introduced.

DPA

Subject: German news

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