German central bank mulls director's ouster

1st September 2010, Comments 0 comments

The German central bank said Wednesday it would make no immediate statement on the future of controversial board member Thilo Sarrazin, who has criticized the effect of Muslim immigration on Germany.

"Don't count on a result" before Thursday, a Bundesbank spokeswoman told AFP after the bank's board met in Frankfurt.

It was expected to decide whether or not to recommend that German President Christian Wulff dismiss Sarrazin for those and other comments that have stirred up a storm of protest.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Scheuble said earlier Wednesday that Sarrazin's remarks on Turkish immigrants and a "Jewish gene" were irresponsible and simply served to stir up publicity.

"This way of breaking taboos does not take our country forward," Schaeuble said.

Sarrazin roused a storm of protest with a new book, "Germany Does Itself In", in which he claims that Muslim immigration and a high birth rate among Turkish immigrants will damage the country's long-term economic potential.

The banker also spoke of a specific "Jewish gene," as well as a specific gene among members of the French and Spanish Basque community, and provoked a sharp rebuke from Chancellor Angela Merkel who termed his remarks "completely unacceptable."

Sarrazin can only be removed by Wulff following a vote by the bank's board.

Meanwhile, the affair could harm the chances of Bundesbank president Axel Weber becoming the next European Central Bank (ECB) president when Jean-Claude Trichet steps down in October 2011, media and analysts say.

In firing Sarrazin, the Bundesbank, which prides itself on its independence, could be criticized for giving in to pressure from politicians and infringing free speech.

Sarrazin has already been stripped of many responsibilities at the bank following earlier comments deemed rascist, and the Bundesbank said Monday it had nothing to do with his latest "discriminatory declarations."

The Bundesbank also said that Sarrazin has damaged its image, which could be grounds for dismissal by Wulff.

But the decision to fire a board member "has never been taken in the history of the Bundesbank," Barclays Capital economist Thorsten Polleit noted, and Germans defend the right to free speech as much as they slam racial prejudice.

German media have sharply criticized Sarrazin, but most have also said the country cannot ignore the immigration issue.

The daily Westdeutsche Zeitung wrote Monday: "The topics Sarrazin addresses in his book are not only sensitive but decisive for the future."

"Even if most enlightened citizens think his comments are politically incorrect, we should not put a positive spin on the problems: there is a lot going wrong with integration in Germany."

© 2010 AFP

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