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Europe

Fischer: Keep Ukraine on Path to Europe

Speaking in Kiev on Monday, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said the door to Europe must remain open for Ukraine, and urged leaders not to be influenced by the ongoing visa scandal in which he's been implicated.

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Fischer met with his Polish and Ukrainian counterparts

Referring to the tourist visa scandal which allegedly allowed thousands of illegal eastern European immigrants -- including many Ukrainians -- enter Germany between 2000 and 2003, Fischer called for a cool head when discussing the former Soviet country's EU ambitions.

"You have to be able to separate one from the other," he told journalists while visiting Kiev on Monday.

The investigation into whether or not relaxed visa criteria allowed organized crime, black market businesses and prostitution to flow into Germany unchecked was an internal matter, Fischer said, and one that he was prepared to deal with.

Viktor Juschtschenko im Bundestag

Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko appealed for closer EU ties during a recent speech at the German Bundestag.

"The other is the development of a democratic Ukraine," Fischer said. "And that has great significance for Europe."

The way to the West, he said, should not only be a valid prospect on an institutional level, but also for the average citizen.

Former ambassador joins critics

In Germany, meanwhile, another voice has joined the chorus of criticism aimed at Fischer for his involvement in the visa affair. A former high-ranking German ambassador said on Saturday that German authorities were not checking visa applications thoroughly enough.

"It was clear that we were not examining the files enough and that many people were passing through the loopholes for unknown reasons," Ernst-Jörg von Studnitz, former ambassador to Russia from 1995 to 2002, told the German news agency DPA.

"Green ideology"

Fischer, whose standing as the most popular politician in Germany has taken a hammering over the visa affair, did not pay enough attention to the visa policy, von Studnitz charged.

The former ambassador said Fischer's policy was "the attempt to put into practice the green ideology."

Von Studnitz said the ministry took too long to react to the abuse of the liberalized visa regulations introduced under Fischer.

"Apparently, we just shut our eyes. This happens often when ideological elements are slipped into political practice," von Studnitz told Der Spiegel weekly in an interviewed published on Monday.

Anstehen nach Visa am Konsulat in Kiew

Waiting outside the German Consulate in Kiev, December 2004

Der Spiegel also reported that the ministry acknowledged that the visa policy had led to illegal immigration in an internal memo dated July 2004.

Fischer has acknowledged making mistakes but has refused to resign. He has also received the backing of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.

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