Former envoy blames government for visa affair

20th April 2005, Comments 0 comments

20 April 2005, BERLIN - Germany's former ambassador to Russia blamed the German government on Wednesday for a visa scandal in which hundreds of thousands of east Europeans entered Germany as tourists under dubious circumstances from 2000 to 2003.

20 April 2005

BERLIN - Germany's former ambassador to Russia blamed the German government on Wednesday for a visa scandal in which hundreds of thousands of east Europeans entered Germany as tourists under dubious circumstances from 2000 to 2003.

Ernst-Joerg von Studnitz, who was due to testify at a parliamentary probe into the affair later on Wednesday, said German embassies had not been given the means to deal with the wave of applicants following orders to loosen formerly tight rules on issuing visas.

"It was not possible to master the rush with the limited means made available to the embassy," said von Studnitz in a Bavarian radio interview.

Von Studnitz said the German parliament and finance ministry were directly to blame for insufficient staff at embassies following the decision to push for a "strong opening up of the country" after Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's centre-left government was elected in 1998.

Three current German ambassadors were also testifying on Wednesday to the visa committee, which is trying to determine whether the looser visa policy aided illegal labour, forced prostitution and human trafficking.

Following reports of mass abuses, the German government abruptly cancelled the policy and re-imposed tougher visa controls in 2003.

The German ambassador to the Vatican, Gerd Westdickenberg, told the probe that Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer had headed a meeting in November 1999 which paved the way for the controversial March 2000 visa liberalisation.

Battle lines in the investigation have clearly been set: diplomats say the German government is at fault over the policy whereas Fischer outraged many of his staff by telling reporters in February that the embassies in Russia and Ukraine may have made mistakes.

On Thursday, former deputy foreign minister Ludger Volmer - who resigned in part over the visa scandal - will be questioned.

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

In a related development, a poll showed Fischer's popularity has plunged following daily media reports over the affair since last December.

At the start of 2005, about 51 percent of voters backed Fischer's policies, in March this had slipped to 49 percent and at present just 34 percent back the minister, said the Allensbach poll for the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper.

DPA

Subject: German news

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