Testifying before a parliamentary inquiry into a visa scandal, German Interior Minister Otto Schily denied any responsibility for laxer regulations that led to an alleged influx of illegal workers and criminals.
Schily's opening remarks alone went on for over three hours
In a marathon fifteen-hour long testimony, Schily laid the blame for the visa scandal squarely at the door of Joschka Fischer’s foreign ministry, saying the latter was solely responsible for putting lax visa regulations into practice. Schily was the last -- and some say, most convincing -- witness in the inquiry which was called by the country’s opposition conservatives to explore the causes for what they claim was a massive abuse of visa regulations between 1999 and 2003.
In his initial address to the panel which lasted about three hours, Schily made it clear that he had at no stage been involved in formulating the 1999/2000 decrees of the foreign ministry. Those decrees were meant to further liberalize Germany’s visa-issuing policy in compliance with guidelines enacted in the early 1990s under former Christian Democrat Chancellor Helmut Kohl.
Schily had concerns
Schily said that he had always been wary of how the decrees were phrased, as in his mind, they’d left too much leeway for embassy staff to ignore certain requirements in checking visa applications. He said he’d called for a series of meetings with Fischer to clarify the issue, but was told that the matter would be sorted out at the level of under-secretaries.
German Interior Minister Otto Schily takes his seat before testifying in front of a parliamentary commission in Berlin on Friday, July 15, 2005, investigating the visa rules scandal that eased tourist visa rules, spurring an influx of people from the former Soviet Union.
"According to the minutes taken during the meeting, the foreign office was only willing to explain the decree in detail," Schily said. "But foreign ministry representatives – as commissioned by the foreign minister himself – categorically rejected any suggestions to change the content of the paper or amend it. My staff was told right away that the interior ministry had no authority to change anything, as the responsibility for visa-related matters rested solely with the foreign ministry."
Schily told the cross-party inquiry panel that while his reservations towards the decrees remained, he was repeatedly assured by the foreign ministry that the relaxed visa policy did not violate any stipulations contained in the Schengen agreement. He pointed out that the decrees issued by Fischer’s ministry were nothing substantially new, as they essentially continued with the policy of the previous Kohl government.
Schily admitted that cases of visa abuse increased after the 1999/2000 decrees, but said they could not really be quantified. He said the number of visas issued by Germany world-wide first increased after the decrees, but then decreased again with the laxer regulations still in place. He called the situation at the embassy in Ukraine a "special case" and said there were complaints about the embassy there having been understaffed. He also said the employment of foreign staff to process visa applications there in order to save costs may have facilitated abuse.