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Germany

Germany Calls for Veto Power over EU Immigration Policies

After initially supporting the European Union's draft constitution, the German government now says it is too early for a joint immigration policy and asks for a change in the draft constitution.

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Already home to millions of immigrants and asylum seekers, Germany is reluctant to hand power on immigration policy to Brussels.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, joined by two delegates at the convention drafting a constitution for Europe, has appealed to convention President Valery Giscard d'Estaing to allow member states to veto immigration policies that would conflict with national interests.

The request, first published on Tuesday by the Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel and later confirmed by the German Foreign Ministry, stated that immigration policy needed to remain in the hands of member states because "the issues raised by immigration policy are among the most sensitive areas of internal policy. From Germany's point of view, a transition to majority decisions in this area is currently not acceptable."

The draft constitution submitted to all member states at the Thessaloniki Summit in June foresees a common EU immigration policy. But considerable domestic opposition has made it difficult for Germany to transfer responsibility for immigration and asylum policy over to Brussels.

Split opinions at home

The opposition Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), have jointly contested the draft's immigration provisions, which would enable decisions to be made in Brussels by a majority vote. Germany has said member states alone should be responsible for determining how many non-EU immigrants can live and work in their country.

According to Germany's Federal Statistics Office, from 1991 to 2001, 8.6 million foreigners came to Germany with the intention of staying not just for a short period of time. Among them, just under 1.9 million – that is about 22 percent of all foreigners – applied for asylum. About 154,500 foreigners were naturalized in Germany in the course of 2002.

The conservative opposition parties argue that immigration is too often a source of social conflict, that the interests of the German economic and labor market need to take priority, and that the asylum system is already swamped.

Though CDU leader Angela Merkel has asked for the constitution's immigration policy to include the right to veto, she has not threatened to block its ratification as her Bavarian colleague Edmund Stoiber of the CSU has done.

"EU majority voting will give asylum seekers access to labor markets through the back door," the Bavarian premier recently told the Financial Times Deutschland newspaper. "This is not acceptable from a German point of view. All things unchanged, we will not approve this in the Bundestag and Bundesrat," he said, referring to Germany's parliament and upper legislative chamber.

Recently, the parties blocked the passage in the Bundesrat of Germany's first-ever immigration policy, saying it would have opened the floodgates to foreign workers at a time when German unemployment is at a record high.

Speaking at the final press conference on June 21, Chancellor Schröder said the European Union was not yet ready for a common immigration policy and that Germany would only consider signing on to one if it could be assured that the "existing and ongoing burden" of immigration was shared across Europe.

Joschka Fischer is not the only one calling for substantial changes. Other European members of parliament in the Convention have also made calls for more major changes - including dropping the veto on foreign policy.

Britain, meanwhile, is concerned that EU member states would keep the right to veto decisions on tax policy.

The convention is set to meet on Friday to make last adjustments to the draft, including finalizing the questions of whether the EU should drop national vetoes on foreign policy, defense, taxation and cultural issues.

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