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Europe

Opinion: Democracy According to Fischer

Fischer ducked and dived, but in the end he admitted a visa policy that allowed thousands of criminals into the country was his responsibility. But there won't be any consequences, says Wolter von Tiesenhausen.

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Admitting mistakes, but without consequence for himself?

The parliamentary committee grilled Fischer for over 12 hours as TV cameras recorded the whole thing.

Everyone was able to witness how the foreign minister tried to extricate himself from the affair, how the opposition parliamentarians took pains to set traps for him and allied parliamentarians from Fischer's red-green coalition government tried to defend their man.

That was interesting for a short while, and not without humor. But stretched out over an entire day, and including many repetitions, it was rather tiresome.

Fischer's understanding of democracy

The result of all these efforts can be summed up quickly: the foreign minister admitted mistakes. The granting of visas to come into the country through the so-called Volmer Decree (former state secretary Ludwig Vollmer allegedly ordered embassies to grant visas even if in doubt) took on dimensions that no one had anticipated. That criminals were also abusing the generous German visa system, which was something the top level of the Foreign Office, and the minister, ignored for a long time. The correction came too late, despite warnings from the interior minister and a few states.

In his testimony, Fischer tried to turn the tables and make the opposition responsible for making a scandal out of the entire process. This method of yelling "stop thief!" and then hiding behind the corner speaks to the skewed understanding the witness Fischer has of democracy.

The discovery of mistakes made by ministers belongs to the basic duties of an opposition party in a democracy. The actual frustration is the minister's false appraisal and that he looked the other way for so long.

The good news

On this point, the committee -- despite all its problems as an institution that charges, defends and judges -- contributed to clarification.

The minister gave up his initial evasive maneuvers and admitted full responsibility. It is now also beyond dispute that the correction (of policies) didn't happen immediately, but with too great a delay. The minister is also responsible for that. The consequences were that many thousands of illegal workers, prostitutes and criminals were not able to only travel to Germany but to other European countries.

The committee proved all of that. But it can't force the minister to accept consequences. Chancellor Gerhard Schröder can do that, but would hardly think of breaking off the cornerstone of his coalition. As a result, the final judgment over the 'visa affair' won't come until the federal elections in 2006.

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