The German government agreed Friday to try one last time to reach agreement on controversial immigration talks with the conservative opposition. Chancellor Schröder is to meet the opposition to iron out details.
Around 7.3 million foreigners have already made Germany their home.
Four days after the Green party pulled out of crucial immigration talks with the conservative opposition -- prompting talk of a government crisis -- Germany's ruling coalition of Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens have agreed to bury differences and search for common ground on continuing negotiations.
Following a government summit meeting in Chancellor Schröder's office on Friday, representatives from the two parties said they had reached a compromise, according to which the chancellor will hold special meetings with the conservative opposition of Christian Democrats and its sister party, the Christian Social Union, to determine whether there were any chances for a all-party accord on a new immigration law.
But, in the end it would be up to a government committee to decide whether immigration negotiations with the conservative opposition should continue. The new immigration law is in effect designed to make it easier for qualified foreigners to move to Germany and facilitate companies to recruit skilled staff from abroad.
The government summit meeting on Friday agreed on a declaration in which they accused the opposition Christian Democrats of blocking talks thus far. The declaration also stressed that to avoid the immigration law from "becoming an instrument in election campaigns," the decision on further talks would be taken before the European elections on June 13.
Green party leader Reinhard Bütikofer
SPD chairman Franz Müntefering said on Friday, "A common law is the priority." Green party chief Reinhard Bütikofer (photo) emphasized that it was important that further negotiations with the opposition were marked by a "clear timetable" and a "clear alternative."
Conservatives make security issue a priority
The latest crisis in the immigration debate came after the Greens abandoned talks on Monday, saying the conservative opposition was hell-bent on including anti-terrorism measures in the immigration package -- a move the Greens believe has nothing to do with immigration directly and was blocking all other issues.
"We don't believe that we can come to a responsible solution with the Christian Democrats," Bütikofer told daily Tagesspiegel on Thursday.
The Christian Democrats insist -- in light of the recent terrorist attacks in Madrid -- that an accord on the immigration law hinges on reaching agreement on important internal security issues. The conservatives want a speedy deportation of foreigners who belong to extremist outfits and participate in violent demonstrations as well as the expulsion of persons who preach hate and violence.
In addition, they want to deport foreigners sentenced to more than a year in prison, set up a central database for storing details of Germans who invite foreigners requiring a visa and tighten rules on accepting asylum-seekers.
Government might go it alone
Schröder's government has already been forced to water down several points contained in the original draft immigration legislation of 2002 under pressure from the conservatives.
For instance, the SPD and Greens scrapped a points system that would have let in highly qualified foreigners into the country without an employment contract and have renounced demands that a hiring ban on foreigners outside the European Union be lifted.
But in light of pressure from business and industry keen to hire skilled personnel from abroad and Germany's rapidly ageing population that needs young workers to keep the social services from collapsing, the government has indicated that it might go it alone with the immigration law if the conservatives don't fall in line.
It would thus seek parliamentary approval for clauses in the immigration law that don't need the support of the opposition-dominated upper house, which represents Germany's federal states.
Thus, the SPD and Greens could begin integration courses for foreigners that include language courses and an introduction to German history and law as well as hire skilled foreign workers for certain branches much like the Green Card regulation in the IT sector.
Bütikofer also pointed out that a national immigration law would also prove to be superfluous in several areas in the future because the EU member states were striving for an EU-wide uniform asylum and migration legislation.