Fischer's ex-deputy denies role in visa scandal

21st April 2005, Comments 0 comments

21 April 2005, BERLIN - Germany's former deputy foreign minister Ludger Volmer on Thursday denied any role in a visa scandal in which hundreds of thousands of eastern Europeans allegedly entered Germany as tourists with the intention of seeking illegal employment.

21 April 2005

BERLIN - Germany's former deputy foreign minister Ludger Volmer on Thursday denied any role in a visa scandal in which hundreds of thousands of eastern Europeans allegedly entered Germany as tourists with the intention of seeking illegal employment.

"I did not have the slightest idea such a problem existed while I was at the foreign ministry," said Volmer, who served as a deputy to Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer from 1998 to 2002.

Testifying at a parliamentary probe, Volmer insisted he was not the architect of the liberalised German visa policy, launched in 2000 and abruptly cancelled in 2003 after reports of mass abuses.

Under what the German media has dubbed 'The Volmer Decree' people from countries like Ukraine, Russia and Albania were allowed to buy a commercial travel insurance document which virtually guaranteed them a tourist visa for Germany.

Volmer told the committee that calling the ill-fated rule 'The Volmer Decree' was "defamatory" because "I did not play a role in drafting it." He also said he had nothing to do with the controversial travel insurance document.

Where guilt lay for the abuses was not made clear by Volmer. The decree was written by numerous foreign ministry departments before being signed by Fischer, he said.

"Our foreign ministry and some of our visa stations perhaps did things which led to unclarity," was his vague conclusion.

Foreign Minister Fischer has blamed the German embassies in Ukraine and Russia for the scandal, whereas diplomats insist they were forced to carry out the policy despite repeated protests.

Present and former German ambassadors to Russia and Ukraine testified to the probe on Wednesday that they had been flooded with applicants after the decree came into force and lacked resources to check the background of visa applicants.

It is alleged that hundreds of thousands of people used the programme to enter Germany to work illegally or travel to other European Union Schengen bloc countries which have abolished border controls.

The visas were reportedly used by human traffickers and prostitution gangs.

But this was denied by Volmer: "The visa policy did not lead to an increase in forced prostitution but rather to a decrease."

He also said most illegal workers had travelled on to Portugal where their status had been swiftly legalised by Lisbon due to Portuguese needs for unskilled labour.

Volmer said the bid to liberalise immigration rules had been made after the ministry found hardship cases of people being refused visas including foreigners who were due to be treated for serious illnesses at German hospitals.

It was also aimed making Germany more open to citizens from central and Eastern Europe, he said.

Volmer was especially critical of media reports which highlight Ukraine as the source of visa abuse. "We cannot stamp an entire nation as criminal," he said.

During his almost two-hour opening statement, Volmer appeared calm and collected while quoting from a mix of foreign ministry documents and media reports.

His anger only flashed once when he rejected allegations by conservatives that the visa policy had been aimed at achieving his Greens party's goal of a multi-cultural Germany.

"Total nonsense!" scoffed Volmer, who said the policy had two main goals: to ease the path of legitimate visitors and to help with family reunification.

Foreign Minister Fischer has been summoned to testify at the probe on Monday.

DPA

Subject: German news

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