German central bank mulls director's ouster
A German central banker has stirred up a hornet's next by claiming immigration could harm the country and Jews have unique genes, leaving the respected Bundesbank red-faced and grappling for a response.
The bank's board met Wednesday as controversy swirled around remarks by board member Thilo Sarrazin, but a spokeswoman told AFP it would not comment immediately on the affair.
"Don't count on a result" before Thursday, she said after board members met in Frankfurt.
Sarrazin has published a 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 specific genes in Jews and members of the French and Spanish Basque community, earning sharp rebukes from across the political spectrum.
Leaders of the Social Democrat Party (SPD), of which Sarrazin is a member, have mooted his expulsion, and conservative German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called the comments "completely unacceptable."
A big problem for the Bundesbank is that directors have a high degree of independence to protect them from political influence, and only German President Christian Wulff can dismiss Sarrazin following a board vote.
Reasons for dismissal are limited to illness or the notion that a board member has committed a far-reaching transgression with respect to bank policy or internal matters, Barclays Capital economist Thorsten Polleit told AFP.
"The bank may not be in a position to unseat him," Polleit opined.
Meanwhile, German media and political figures have slammed Sarrazin, while noting the question of how to integrate Germany's growing immigrant community cannot be swept under the rug.
Finance Minister Wolfgang Scheuble said Wednesday that the remarks were irresponsible and simply served to stir up publicity.
"This way of breaking taboos does not take our country forward," Schaeuble said.
The affair could affect the chances of Bundesbank president Axel Weber becoming the next European Central Bank president when Jean-Claude Trichet steps down in October 2011, Germany media say.
In firing Sarrazin, the Bundesbank, which prides itself on its independence, could be criticized for giving in to political pressure and infringing free speech.
Sarrazin has already been stripped of many responsibilities at the bank following earlier comments deemed rascist, and the Bundesbank distanced itself on Monday from his latest "discriminatory declarations."
But the decision to fire a board member "has never been taken in the history of the Bundesbank," Polleit noted, and Germans defend the right to free speech as much as they detest racial prejudice.
A public reading from the book has nonetheless been cancelled for security reasons, and a Berlin literary salon has withdrawn an invitation for Sarrazin to appear.
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