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Germany

Breakthrough on German Immigration Law

After years of acrimonious talks and two failed attempts to push through a controversial immigration law, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder managed to secure a deal with the opposition conservatives.

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Germany's doors are now open to foreign workers.

Putting aside three years of cross-party bickering, Schröder and opposition leader Angela Merkel announced on Tuesday they had struck a compromise that will allow non-European foreign workers to immigrate to Germany for the first time in decades.

"We've reached a political agreement," said Schröder who had kicked off the final round of talks on the controversial law by offering to include some of the demands on security issues put forth by the Christian Democrat Union (CDU).

The law, which was originally drafted in 2000 to help recruit talented immigrants to fill a shortage of skilled labor, had become bogged down in fears that it opened the door for foreign extremists to enter the country. An ensuing partisan dispute broke out with the conservative CDU linking any agreement on immigration to demands for tougher measures against terror suspects.

Schröder's compromise reflects some of these concerns by including a clause that allows foreigners to be expelled from Germany on the basis of circumstantial evidence of danger and calls for immigrants to be screened by the domestic intelligence agency.

The Greens, the junior coalition partner in Schröder's government, had adamantly opposed the inclusion of any such anti-terror measures and until Tuesday had threatened to abandon the talks if the CDU's demands were not dropped. But in the end, Schröder could count on their support and announced optimistically, "We're going to have a modern immigration law."

Opening the doors

Einwanderung Symbolbild Menschen auf der Straße Miniquiz Mai 2004

Can Germany absorb all the foreigners waiting to emigrate?

The compromise plan, which allows non-European nationals to immigrate to Germany for work, essentially reverses 30 years of immigration policy. Although Germany has 7.2 million foreigners and takes in newcomers, primarily Russians of German ancestry and asylum seekers, it has effectively been shut to foreign workers from outside the European Union since the 1970s.

Schröder said the new law would give a boost to Germany's businesses which are suffering from a shortage of skilled labor, especially in the IT branch. Industry leaders had urged the parties to reach a deal, arguing that despite a 10.5 percent unemployment rate, there were not enough skilled workers in the country to fill all the openings.

Hammering out the finer details

Speaking to the press, Merkel said, "It's now worthwhile to work together on the final details of a draft for the legislation."

Representatives from Schröder's Social Democrats, the Greens and the CDU along with their Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union and the neo-liberal FDP will hammer out the finer points and present parliament with a draft of the new law by June 17.

Schröder said the SPD and Greens would not make any further concessions to the conservatives. "The compromise is not up for any further negotiations," he said.

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