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Germany

Opinion: Compromise is Better than Failure

Chancellor Schröder is certain that Germany will have a modern immigration law thanks to his breakthrough deal with the opposition. But does the compromise still resemble the ambitious vision from three years ago?

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You see, it can work! Perhaps the opposition leaders and the Chancellor were still under the influence of Sunday's fiery speech by the newly elected German President. "Get down to business," was Horst Köhler's message to the politicians. "Find solutions and compromises, get the country moving again!"

Two days later, Angela Merkel, Edmund Stoiber and Gerhard Schröder were all in agreement that they could work together on a new immigration law for Germany. After three years of fruitless cross-party talks and bitter divisions, trying all-night sessions and countless commissions and working groups, a compromise is certainly good news.

And after the battle, what remains? A chancellor who's proven that he still has the power to shape this country, a conservative union that managed to turn an immigration law into a law to protect Germany from terrorists, and a dispirited coalition partner -- the Greens -- who went to the outer limits of what is considered acceptable by the party faithful.

Mitigated success

A look at the details: Highly skilled workers can now enter Germany indefinitely, and foreigners who study here with good results, and who want to work say, as an engineer, can also stay. Finally, it's been recognized that the horrific practice of female genital mutilation in several African countries is a valid reason to seek asylum in Germany.

On the flipside, it'll be easier to deport religious extremists who preach hatred and people suspected of involvement with terrorist groups. The red-green coalition did manage, however, to shoot down demands by the conservatives to introduce confinement of up to two years for suspects who, for humanitarian reasons, can't be deported to their home countries.

Schröder's patience was finally at an end. He openly threatened the opposition to write considerable parts of the law in such a way that the agreement of the conservatives wouldn't be needed in the upper house of parliament, the Bundesrat. It worked.

Security issues dominated

All's well that ends well? Not quite. The immigration law was supposed to provide for a regulated influx of skilled foreigners who could help fill the gaps in German's labor market. It was meant to make clear that Germany is an immigration country, and improve the conditions for the millions of foreigners already living here. Not much of that is left over in this compromise. In the end, questions of security ruled the debate. The agreement is a compromise, and compromises are part and parcel of politics. For a while now, it's been obvious that Germany wasn't going to get the modern, ambitious regulations that many politicians, employers, human rights campaigners, and foreigners living here had hoped for. Still, a compromise is preferable to complete failure.

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