At stake in the visa affair is the integrity of Germany's much-loved Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer. DW's Jens Thurau wonders if the scandal might prove to be his political undoing -- and his party's.
Joschka Fischer doesn't have much to smile about these days
On Monday evening the foreign minister finally admitted that he may have made mistakes in easing German entry conditions for citizens from the former Soviet bloc; that he accepted full responsibility for mistakes made; and that he would be appearing before a parliamentary commission investigating the allegations.
But that said, he went on to dismiss the affair as an obvious attempt on the part of the opposition to undermine the Greens' election campaign.
Within his party, Fischer isn't the only one appearing to shrug off the seriousness of the allegations. As far as the Greens are concerned, they have nothing to do with the errors of judgement at the German embassy in Kiev which allowed human traffickers to bring tens of thousands of people illegally into Germany.
Admittedly, it was the previous government that first eased conditions for acquiring German visas -- such as the introduction of the controversial tourist visas. But even so, the number of visa applications that were approved rose dramatically in recent years.
Fischer long declined to comment on the matter, as did other leading Greens. And now they've closed ranks. The consensus within the party appears to be that the whole affair is a deliberate smear campaign, led by the Christian Democrats and the neo-liberal Free Democrats -- and, of course, the press -- designed to foil the best-loved politician in the country.
The Joschka backlash
They may well have a point. Fischer has always been the darling of the German media, and the recent backlash may just be a reaction to the nation's knee-jerk adoration of its revered foreign minister.
They may also have a point when they argue that the foreign ministry's reforms of the visa application process had a sound basis. Given that Germany is keen to raise its profile as a welcoming country, the 2000 "Volmer Decree" which relaxed visa restrictions was intended to make it easier for scientists and artists to visit Germany. But unfortunately, it also made it easier for other visitors.
Fischer allegedly stood by passively for years, allowing thousands of foreigners to be smuggled from eastern Europe into Germany.
A taste of their own medicine
His party is now beset by a potentially ugly crisis. Fischer may have accepted responsibility, but his admission of guilt has a hollow ring to it given that he clearly isn't seriously considering stepping down.
Ultimately, no one expects him to. The controversial visa rules were suspended last year. But Joshka Fischer's image has suffered an unprecedented blow, and his party is none too pleased. They built their career on taking the previous government to task and calling for transparency at every available opportunity. In short, they were at their best as an opposition party. As such, they were never averse to simplifying some complex issues -- as Joschka Fischer knows all too well. Now, however, he and his party are on the receiving end.
The Greens missed the opportunity to go on the offensive. And now the damage is done. For a party that has over six years experience of government, its leadership showed a complete lack of foresight and badly underestimated the repercussions of the visa affair.
Perhaps the Greens have been resting on their laurels. If so, the whole sorry business has at least served one useful purpose -- to bring them back to earth, if with a bump.