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Germany

Should Fischer Stay or Go?

German politicians and the press were divided on Tuesday on whether Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer should keep his job despite his admission that he made mistakes in his handling of an immigration scandal.

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Joschka Fischer's political future hangs in the balance

Fischer's 12-hour appearance before a parliamentary investigation on Monday was televised live and attracted great interest with more than 800,000 people tuning in to watch on a specialist political TV channel.

In his testimony, Fischer admitted failing to step in more quickly to tighten revised visa rules which allowed tens of thousands of eastern Europeans into Germany between 2000 and 2003. But he rounded on the opposition Christian Democrats, accusing them of exaggerating the scale of the problem and dismissed claims that Germany had been overrun by an influx of criminals.

Opposition calls for Fischer to stand down

Inevitably, the opposition renewed their call for Fischer's resignation. Eckart von Klaeden, a Christian Democratic Union (CDU) representative on the inquiry who clashed with Fischer during his testimony, said: "I still believe that it would be proper for him to resign."

Joschka Fischer vor dem Visa-Untersuchungsausschuss

Joschka Fischer at the entrance for the hearing

But Olaf Scholz, who represents Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's Social Democratic Party (SPD) in the inquiry, said Fischer had shown there were no grounds for him to step down.

"One thing is clear -- the minister will stay in office," Scholz said. He added that he believed Fischer's testimony would give the SPD a "tailwind" ahead of a key election on May 22 in Germany's most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia.

The SPD are the dominant partners in the ruling coalition along with Fischer's Greens. Schröder's party has suffered a string of setbacks in state elections and, with a general election due to take place in September next year, the SPD can't afford to lose in North Rhine-Westphalia, one of its traditional strongholds.

Divided opinion

Joschka Fischer vor dem Visa Untersuchungsausschuss, Berlin 25.04.2005

The focus of media attention - not all of it positive

The newspapers were equally divided over Fischer's performance. The Financial Times Deutschland said that despite a vintage performance from the charismatic minister, many questions remain unanswered.

"He was quite the old Joschka Fischer -- belligerent, lacking respect, eloquent and witty. But his show was being played out in the wrong theater. It was all about how far he is responsible for mass human trafficking offences and from this point of view he wasn't convincing."

The centre-left Süddeutsche Zeitung however said the foreign minster had emerged stronger. "We are now past the high point of this scandal, there are no new revelations to emerge," it said. The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung was less convinced, saying: "Fischer gave it his best. We will see if it was enough."

And Die Welt, also a conservative paper, criticised what it said were all too frequent gaps in Fischer's memory. "What Fischer left out of this 'acrobatic' recollection is what sticks in the memory -- of a minister who hasn't got a grip on his own department."

Bildergalerie Gerhard Schröder 5

Gerhard Schroeder supports Fischer all the way

Most of the newspapers, however, accepted that a major factor in Fischer's favor was that he has Schröder's support. In an interview in Sunday's edition of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung the chancellor said: "The foreign minister will remain the foreign minister."

The inquiry could recall Fischer for further questions if necessary.

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