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Germany

Getting a Political Hot Topic Off the Stove

Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's government looks ready to pass the country's first immigration law after his coalition partner, the Greens, agree to compromise. But his opposition, wants to block the bill at all costs.

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Turkish immigrants make up the majority of Germany's immigrant population.

In an effort to get a political hot topic off the stove as soon as possible, Germany’s government appears ready for compromise on the divisive topic of immigration.

Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's coalition government’s junior partner, the Green Party, withdrew specific demands in fashioning the country’s first immigration law Monday night.

In doing so, the party hopes to appease the government’s opposition in the conservative union parties, the Christian Democratic Union and Christian Social Union, before they can make it into an election battle cry.

The opposition, which is backing Bavarian Premier Edmund Stoiber’s run for the chancellorship this year, has specifically demanded that Germany’s first-ever immigration law emphasize a limited and regulated approach to allowing foreigners in the country. Stoiber, himself no fan of immigration, is eager to hinder his opponent’s attempts to create a law before the next election.

"Whoever refers to Germany as a general immigration destination, is going against the wishes and hopes of most people," he has said.

A few weeks ago, Stoiber called on union parliamentarians to block the coalition government’s efforts to push across an immigration law. The union parties, he said, will not agree on any social democrat-Green proposal unless they incorporate a 16-point addendum proposed by the union parties.

Schröder and his cabinet ministers want a broad coalition on the divisive topic. He has asked that the union parties do not start a "campaign-tactical debate."

An older population needs foreigners

The chancellor’s SPD wants to show his party can create an open and tolerant immigration policy that fills Germany’s dire economic needs. With an aging population and the unwillingness of many Germans to take jobs on the low-end of the totem pole, many have argued that the country desperately needs foreign workers.

The country depended on the hard labor of Turkish immigrants in the 1960s and 1970s to help rebuild a nation devastated by war. Today, Turks make up 2 million of the 7.3 million foreigners living in Germany.

Now, the emphasis seems to be on targeted immigration. One of the compromises reached last night was that immigration would be based on the needs of the national not various regional job markets.

The union politicians also want to limit the number of non-German speaking youths living in the country. They proposed that only children 10 years and younger can follow their parents to Germany. The Greens wanted a maximum age of 14.

On Monday, the Greens moved toward a compromise by dropping their demands down to 12 years. But the party wanted room in the bill for exceptions.

Getting by with a little help from the states

The moves have of course been received with skepticism by the opposition. But Schröder still has a chance at passing his immigration law if the Bundesrat, the legislative body that represents Germany's 16 states on the federal level, approves the bill.

The Chancellor will take the next week to shore up the support of Social Democratic premiers but will also have to lobby the heads of five key states still on the fence.

The ruling governments in Berlin, Brandenburg, Bremen and Mecklenburg Pomerania remain skeptical of the proposal.

He doesn't have much time: the Bundesrat is scheduled to debate the immigration law proposal on March 22.

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