Germany's Green party has pulled out of crucial talks on a new immigration law, citing irreconcilable differences with the conservative opposition. The move threatens to create a crisis in the governing coalition.
The government had hoped to attract talented foreigners.
Negotiations on a new immigration law meant to make it easier for qualified foreigners to move to Germany collapsed on Monday after the Greens, the junior partner in the ruling coalition with Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's Social Democrats, gave up hope of reaching a deal.
"The game is over," Green party chief Reinhard Bütikofer said. "The opposition doesn't want immigration… it doesn't want compromises, but rather just wants to block the issue. Further discussions don't make sense," co-leader of the Greens, Angelika Beer told daily Berliner Zeitung. She added the Greens would meet on Friday to decide whether the decision would be made official.
Conservatives force changes
The move by the Greens underlines the increasingly fraught discussions in the past six months between the Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens on one side and the conservative opposition Christian Democrats over the touchy issue.
Foreigners wait at Hamburg's foreign office
For years, Germany's conservatives have insisted that Germany "isn't an immigration country" though as many as 7.3 million foreigners live in the country today. The country's complex maze of immigration laws has prevented hiring foreign workers, though it hasn't stopped immigrants from coming in as asylum-seekers and refugees.
However, in the late 1990s the new coalition of SPD and Greens overhauled the citizenship law making it easier for immigrants and their children to receive German passports. In February 2001, Chancellor Schröder responded to demands from German industry and business and created a "Green Card" for information-technology workers. It also started to push through a law allowing it to pick immigrants more selectively.
But in the face of rising employment the conservatives began exploiting voters' fears that outsiders would take away their jobs. They eventually won control of the upper house, which represents Germany's federal states. The conservatives then demanded changes to the law at the end of 2002 when the bill was reintroduced in parliament due to a procedural error.
Greens resist conservative pressure
Ever since, the government has been forced to water down several points contained in the original draft immigration legislation 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.
Other stumbling blocks include refugee protection, integration of foreigners and the deportation of foreigners suspected of terrorism. The latter in particular has been a sticking point between the parties with the Greens protesting that the conservatives were laying too much emphasis on the internal security aspect -- an issue, they say, has nothing to do with the immigration law.
The conservatives however insist -- in the aftermath of the Madrid terror attacks in March -- that the foreigner law in the country's penal code should be tightened.
Brandenburg interior minister and CDU state chairman Jörg Schönbohm said on Tuesday that the Greens should realize there was no way past the security aspect and said the CDU was "hell-bent on preventing any danger to our population."
SPD unhappy with Green stance
Despite the differences with the opposition conservatives, Green leader Bütikofer indicated on Monday that the government could still get its way, albeit with limits, with some aspects of the immigration package that only needed the approval of the Bundestag or lower house of parliament.
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.
However, Schröder's Social Democrats aren't pleased with the Greens' stance. Interior Minister Otto Schily said the Greens' decision to pull out of talks was a provocation. "If Mr. Bütikofer thinks he calls the shots here, then I'm convinced it would lead to a serious crisis in the coalition."
SPD politician Dieter Wiefelspütz said things still hadn't gone as far as to suspend talks with the opposition. "It would be a devastating signal to give up negotiations now."