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Germany

Immigration experts call for Cross-party Consensus

With hardliner Stoiber as conservative candidate, hopes of a cross-party consensus to avoid the immigration issue in the election campaign is fading. At a parliament hearing, experts called for the oppositions’ approval.

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Stoiber wants to cut the influx of immigrants to Germany

In the run-up to the September elections, Germany’s economy has now issued a strong warning to the conservatives not to block immigration reforms conceived by Interior Minister Otto Schily, who wants to see the proposed legislation passed before the September election.

Both the SPD and the economy are keen to pass legislation quickly that would allow in a controlled stream of immigrants to offset Germany’s falling population and boost German economy.

The immigration reform, which includes unlimited residency for highly skilled foreign labour and a new quota for less qualified workers are seen by the economy as essential to bolster Germany’s high-tech workforce.

The president of Germany’s Chamber of Commerce, Ludwig-Georg Braun told the "Berliner Zeitung" daily on Wednesday that he regarded the opposition’s "categorical rejection" of the immigration law as wrong. The conservatives should play a "constructive role," he said.

The calls for an end to the political wrangling over Schily’s draft bill were followed by demands from economic and legal experts, voiced on Wednesday at the largest parliamentary hearing on the subject yet.

17 experts specialised in asylum and migration matters were invited to speak on the issue of immigration to the German parliament.

Immigration expert Klaus Bade from the university of Osnabrück called Schily’s draft bill "an epochmaking political turn" and praised the immigration reform.

But criticsm was also voiced at the hearing. Jörg Alt from the Jesuit-Refugee Service said that the issue of illegal immigrants was not sufficiently covered in the reform bill and called for an improvement of illegal workers’ legal status.

Calls for compromise

With Edmund Stoiber as conservative chancellorship candidate, hopes that the immigration issue will be resolved before the election campaign have been stumped.

The choice of the Bavarian hardliner as the conservative candidate to challenge Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has yet again ignited the heated debate on the immigration issue.

The arch-conservative has repeatedly refused appeals to keep immigration out of the campaign. "We will not have a multi-cultural society as a goal" he recently told a party rally.

In an interview with the Spiegel weekly, Stoiber described Germany as a foreigner friendly country and said that Germany integrated more than 500,000 foreigners a year. He said that the country would not be able to cope with more, saying the effect on the German job market and the welfare budget would only cost "money and energy".

Stoiber has not ruled out a compromise with the governing red-green coalition, but only if the government agrees on the conservatives’ core demands, which will be up for discussion at a meeting with Schily and the Free Democrats, later this week. "If the government doesn’t agree on these demands, then I can not imagine a consens with the conservatives," faction leader Wolfgang Bosbach said.

However, the conservatives are said to expect Stoiber to eventually approve Schily’s draft bill, in order to contradict talk that the conservatives are drifting further to the right.

And calls to approve the immigration reform have turned up from within the Christian Democrats. Rita Süssmuth, chair of the parliamentary Immigration Commision, said the Immigration bill was needed. "I can only hope that our candidate is aware of this huge responsibility," she said.

Cross-party divide

The governing Social Democrats lack a majority in the upper house of parliament and therefore need to win over the federal states including those ruled by Christian Democrats in order to get the bill through the Bundesrat on March 1.

The debate on immigration dates back to the beginning of 2000, when Chancellor Schröder first introduced the Green Card initiative. Ever since then the Greens and the SPD have been working on revamping Germany’s entire immigration policy. In November the two parties finally reached an agreement.

With Germany sliding into recession, the issue of Germany’s rising unemployment has been dominating the debate. In December last year Schily warned the CDU of linking immigration to unemployment figures, a tactic the opposition has resorted to in the past. But given the recent publications of unemployment figures, it is a point that can not be avoided.

"We have almost four million registered unemployed and another million and a half people in job creation programs. Finding them work, retraining and further training for German and foreign resident workers must have priority in labour market policy over more immigration," CDU faction leader Wolfgang Bosbach said during a parliamentary debate last year.

The Social Democrats and Greens argue that the two issues are not as directly related as the conservative parties would have them to be. They point out that immigration along the lines of a Green Card for highly skilled workers would actually improve the economy.

Germany’s economy is calling for a solution to the problem, something they say could be resolved by Schily’s immigration reform.

Michael Rogowski, German President of the German Industry Association said on Wednesday that even if the German unemployment rate was expected to hurdle 4 million in the coming months, the issue of high-skilled workers was still an important issue. Germany still desperately needed more highly qualified foreigners - soon.

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