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Germany

Disputed Immigration Law Heating Up Again

German President Johannes Rau is meeting with leaders in Brandenburg Tuesday to investigate conflicting votes cast in a controversial immigration measure. The bill could be headed for a constitutional challenge.

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Germany's president has a tough decision on his hands.

Back in March, after an angrily disputed vote tally in Germany's upper legislative chamber, it seemed like two things could happen to the country's first-ever immigration bill: it would either be derailed or it would spiral Germany into an unprecedented constitutional crises.

A few months on, flaring tempers have cooled, but the legislation is still stalled on the desk of German President Johannes Rau, who must sign it before it becomes law, like kindling waiting to ignite a fire.

On Tuesday, Rau is set to meet with the premier and interior minister of the state of Brandenburg whose votes on the bill briefly threw Germany into a political crisis earlier this year.

Asylsuchende in der Ausländerbehörde in Hamburg

The immigration law, drafted by the left of center Social Democrats and Greens, was designed to control and limit the number of foreigners coming to Germany while at the same time seeking to attract the highly qualified workers necessary for economic expansion.

The bill's creators also sought to draw attention to the multicultural face of Germany, where more than 7 million immigrants now reside - from Turkish mom-and-pop shop owners to Indians working in the IT industry.

Instead, it sparked the greatest political row of the year.

A divisive day in the Bundesrat

On March 22, Brandenburg's conservative interior minister, Jörg Schönbohm of the Christian Democratic Union, voted against the immigration measure in the Bundesrat, Germany's upper legislative chamber. But Brandenburg's Social Democratic premier and Schönbohm's coalition government partner Manfred Stolpe, voted in favor.

Social Democrat Klaus Wowereit, premier of Berlin and president of the Bundesrat, counted Stolpe's vote as the official vote.

A Constitutional Court challenge?

The opposition Union parties immediately threatened to contest the vote tallying to the Federal Constitutional Court if Rau signed the bill. Under the German constitution, a state delegation to the Bundesrat is required to vote unanimously.

Rau has been weighing his decision for several months now. Though the meeting has not been officially confirmed, government sources have told the press that Rau will seek to find out whether the members of the Brandenburg delegation had established any agreements prior to the Bundesrat vote.

Opposition lobbies Rau

Edmund Stoiber

Edmund Stoiber

Since March, opposition leaders have lobbied Rau intensively not to sign the bill. Bavarian premier and Union-bloc chancellor candidate Edmund Stoiber (photo) believes the vote tally in the Bundesrat was unconstitutional and threatened earlier this week in an interview with the newspaper Die Welt to make the disputed decision a campaign theme.

If Rau signed the bill, he said, it would not just be a question of a Constitutional Court challenge, but also of the "public interest."

Law still on track

However, SPD parliamentary group leader Peter Struck told the Hannoverschen Allgemeinen Zeitung newspaper he was convinced that the law would become effective as scheduled on January 1, 2003, and that "even if there is a Constitutional Court review, it would come to no other conclusion."

Before signing the immigration bill into law, Rau must determine whether its passage was legal.

Government sources cited in major media reports indicate Rau is seeking to sign the law and then pass the controversial sections on to the Constitutional Court for review and final approval.

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