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German Press Review: Asylum Policy and Working Hours

As the politicians clear out of Berlin for their summer recess, news has slowed down in Germany. Editorialists across the country seemed to be searching for key issues on Wednesday and came up with several.

There was no real lead topic in the newspapers Wednesday, and many of the issues editorialists chose to take aim at were of purely local interest. The "Sommerloch" or summer news hole with its dearth of political events seems to have hit the country.

One of the stories still attracting attention is the ongoing saga of the German relief agency Cap Anamur and its ship which plucked 37 African refugees from the Mediterranean and waited weeks before being allowed to dock in Sicily. After the crew was arrested by Italian authorities for aiding illegal immigration, a spat between Berlin and Rome ensued over which country needed to take responsibility for the refugees. In the meantime, the crew has been released and the Africans are stuck in a detainment center. The event has rocketed the issue of asylum to the front page as EU leaders once again take up the discussion of establishing refugee holding centers in North Africa and creating a European-wide asylum policy.

Cap Anamur itself has come under the editorialists' pen as its actions in the Mediterranean caused many to wonder whether the organization, which has been campaigning for the rights of refugees for years, might actually have staged last week's drama to gain media attention. The Stuttgarter Zeitung pointed out that any organization which only has the media as its ally in the task of raising public support, is building on shaky ground. "Interest can quickly disappear," it said, "if the next action is not more dramatic than the last." The paper referred to similar actions launched by Greenpeace, which lost support over incorrect information delivered in the heat of a campaign. "Now they operate more behind the scenes," observed the paper. "Cap Anamur has profited for decades from being a darling of the media," it went on. "Greenpeace had to learn that the media destroy their darlings very quickly."

The Süddeutsche Zeitung turned its attention to the discussion surrounding a referendum on the draft European Union Constitution. As it pointed out, a referendum carries the risk that the people could reject the document. But keeping going in the same old way is no less risky, the paper added. The lack of interest among the public for what's going on in Brussels is threatening to turn into rejection, even rebellion. A referendum could work to stop such sentiments. And, the Munich daily added, "it would bring the necessary clarification as to where a country wants to be: in the center of Europe or on its edge."

A few newspapers took a close look at a fresh study showing that the Germans aren't the world's champion vacationers and short hour workers, many in the country had held them to be. The Westdeutsche Zeitung from Düsseldorf said a lot of managers already knew it, but the study proves that many Germans work more than the hours 35-40 hours stipulated in their contracts. This is especially true in small companies, where people often work extra hours without pay. Nonetheless, the paper said the big companies will still continue to attack the existing tariff agreements. "They want to take advantage of a situation in which the unions are fighting for their survival," it said. But Germany can't compete with Eastern Europe or Asia on wage costs, and a 45-hour week won't change that.

The TZ of Munich is also skeptical about the study. We've all got to be flexible, it stated. But according to the study, we already work 42 hours a week, it protested. Big business wants to get rid of the union agreements. The paper pithily quoted a German saying: "Drops of water wear away the stone." Let's hope not in this case, it concluded.

Also in business news, the tabloid Express from Cologne weighed in on the 16-page questionnaire which is currently being sent to the long-term unemployed to determine their entitlement to new benefits. The minister in charge, Wolfgang Clement, said it'll only take half an hour to fill out. The paper retorted, that may be because those who have nothing to declare, will have little to fill in. A minister like Clement won't ever be likely to have to fill out the form, even if he finds himself unemployed after the next election. Ministers after all get big pensions, even if they don't reach retirement age. The minister said anyone who has problems filling in the form should simply phone him. Although the paper stops short of printing Clement's direct line, it does give the number of the ministry switchboard.