As Germany prepares for early elections, the coalition government has initiated steps to dissolve a parliamentary committee looking into large-scale visa abuses. The move has outraged the conservative opposition.
The Social Democratic-Greens coalition pulled the plug
Thursday's testimonies of the German ambassador to the Philippines and several border police officials were most likely to be the last to be heard by the inquiry committee investigating the German visa scandal.
Representatives of the Social Democrats (SPD) and their coalition partners from the Greens used their majority in the committee in Berlin on Thursday to stop hearings of witnesses and agreed to start working on a final report.
Less than four months ahead of early elections in Germany, the panel was bound by law to make the controversial move, said the Greens committee representative Jerzey Montag. He said they had to take into account that there will be general elections in September.
"This means the committee cannot complete its work in this legislative period," said Montag. "Under these circumstances, we are forced by law to start working on a preliminary report in time for parliament to adopt it. Consequently, we have to stop the hearings now and get going with the report."
Heading to constitutional court
The committee representative from the Christian Democrats (CDU), Eckehardt von Klaeden, questioned the legality of any moves to stop the investigation.
"We all want early elections, but at the moment, not a single precondition for those elections, as laid down in the constitution, has been fulfilled," said von Klaeden. "That is why there is no reason at all to stop the work of the inquiry committee by taking such an arbitrary decision."
Joschka Fischer's testimony before the parliamentary panel attracted much media attention
On Thursday, the opposition parties vowed to lodge a complaint with Germany’s constitutional court and press for the committee to be allowed to proceed with the hearings.
Montag said the motives for the opposition were election-driven. "The opposition refuses to take the necessary decisions and only wants to arm themselves for the upcoming election campaign," he said. "In doing this, they are abusing the parliamentary committee for party-political goals."
As a result of the imminent dissolution of the committee, a high-profile hearing of Interior Minister Otto Schily will fall by the wayside. Observers believe that the Greens had pushed the decision in order to prevent a much-publicized dispute between Schily and the Greens' figurehead, Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer.
Schily is said to have been hugely critical of the lax visa policy introduced by Fischer in early 2000. The foreign minister's loosening of entry rules at German consulates allegedly led to the influx of hundreds of thousands of illegal foreign workers, prostitutes and even two suspected terrorists between 2000 and 2002.
In a high-profile televised hearing of Fischer in April, the committee grilled the foreign minister for fourteen hours. Opposition conservatives and liberal Free Democrats now claim the red-green government wants to avoid more bad publicity and would aim to duck allegations that Fischer might have lied in the committee.
They hope that Otto Schily's testimony, originally scheduled for July 8, would unveil more unpleasant facts about the visa scandal. These could then be used by the conservatives in their bid to oust Chancellor Gerhard Schröder in the upcoming election. Foreign Minister Fischer has already fallen from popular grace for his role in the affair and can no longer claim to be Germany's most popular politician.