German Visa Affair 2005


German Visa Affair 2005

The visa affair is the name given by German newspapers to the controversy which arose in early 2005 over a change of procedure of issuing visas to foreign nationals seeking to enter Germany from Eastern European non-EU states. Apparently, the new visa policy, in place since 2000, willingly discarded essential safeguards against abuses such as illegal immigration and human trafficking in favour of speeding up the issuing process for tourist visas. The affair prompted the resignation of then responsible Minister of State Ludger Volmer of the Green party from his roles in the Bundestag foreign affairs committee and as foreign affairs spokesperson of his party and severely damaged the reputation of his party colleague, Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer.

Background

1999/2000

In 1999 the German embassy in Kiev, Ukraine alone issued more than 150,000 visas for Germany. Long queues formed in front of the embassy. Applicants reported that Ukrainian security personnel demanded DM 100 to 500 (€50 - 250) from applicants to get ahead in the queue.

At the beginning of 2000, the Minister of State at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ludger Volmer, issued a decree (known as "Volmer's Decree"), which extended the powers of the individual embassies in deciding about visa applications. The decree aimed at making travel to Germany easier. When in doubt, the application was to be decided in favour of the applicant.

At the same time, visa applications directly at travel agencies were introduced. This regulation was opposed by the Federal "Bundesgrenzschutz" (Border Guard) as well as by the "Bundeskriminalamt" (Federal Crime Agency), because they feared that it would also lead to easier migration into Germany for criminals. They cited a criminal court decision against the manager of a travel agency who organized illegal migration into Germany. The "tourists" went underground, became prostitutes or left Germany for other countries of the European Union.

In March 9, 2000, the Minister of the Interior, Otto Schily (SPD) wrote a letter to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Joschka Fischer, saying that he saw the "Volmer's Decree" as a violation of the Aliens Act as well as of the Schengen Treaty. As of 2005, it is not clear if Schily intervened further, or if not, why not.

2001 - 2003

On May 2, 2001 embassies worldwide were advised to accept the "Carnet de Touriste" travel insurance introduced by Helmut Kohl's CDU in 1995. These insurance documents covered medical costs incurred abroad as well as any costs resulting from deportation. They were accepted in place of a written guarantee by a German citizen to prove that the visa applicant could finance his stay and his return home.

The German Automobile Club (ADAC) sold between 120,000 and 150,000 of these insurance documents, the Allianz insurance company sold more than 35,000, and the ITREC GmbH company more than 31,000. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs also advised the embassies to accept similar travel insurance documents from the "Reiseschutz AG", owned by private entrepreneur Kübler. The press claims this played an important role in the smuggling of people into Germany. The Ministry of the Interior was informed about this by the Federal Crime Agency ("Bundeskriminalamt").

In a trial against Anatoli Barg, the Cologne criminal court claimed that the "Volmer's Decree", the acceptance of travel insurance documents instead of guarantors or proof of credit-worthiness and the applications for visas at travel agencies had led to mass human trafficking. In the verdict, this was called "a cold putsch against the law".

In July, 2001, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs prevented applications for visas at travel agencies from October 1, 2001. Instead of going to a travel agency, once more every applicant had to go to the visa department in an embassy. However, it was assumed that a travel insurance document sufficed as proof of the applicant's credit-worthiness.

From January 29, 2002 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs decreed that it was possible to buy and sell travel insurance documents directly in foreign countries. It is said in the press that this increased the problems in Kiev and that traders sold travel insurance documents for as much as $1,000.

On February 8, 2002 the German ambassador in Kiev reported that the embassy was flooded with applicants proving their credit-worthiness with travel insurance documents.

In March, 2003, the "Volmer's Decree" later "Fischer degree", since it was his responsibility was chancelled. [http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,1564,1495078,00.html] Once more, applicants' credit-worthiness had to be examined. From April 2003, travel insurance documents were not accepted any longer.

2005

On January 20, 2005 the first meeting of the Commission of Inquiry was held in the German Bundestag. This commission -- a kind of judicial hearing -- was set up with the votes of the opposition parties CDU and CSU. The CDU was represented by Eckart von Klaeden. It is assumed that Joschka Fischer will have to make a statement before the commission; the exact time is still in discussion.

On February 12, 2005 Ludger Volmer retired as the Speaker for Foreign Affairs of the Green faction in the Bundestag, after the media criticized his work as a consultant for the company Synthesis GmbH, which worked for the "Bundesdruckerei", producing identity cards, banknotes and other secure documents.

For the first time in over six years, in February, 2005 opinion polls did not show Joschka Fischer in the first place in the popularity vote. Instead, the leading position in the popularity vote went to the Christian Democratic "Ministerpräsident" (Premier) of Lower Saxony, Christian Wulff, with Fischer coming in second.

On March 22, 2005 the media reported that the federal chancellery had been informed about a dispute between Otto Schily and Joschka Fischer about visa politics as early as March, 2000. It was said that Chancellor Gerhard Schröder himself was not informed.

On March 26, 2005 Eckart von Klaeden called for Joschka Fischer to tell the truth before the elections in North Rhine-Westphalia. The CDU/CSU tried to force a statement by Fischer. If that works, a statement by Fischer is to be expected in mid-April to mid-May.

On March 31, 2005 the media reported that Fischer would speak before the Inquiry Commission in mid-April, earlier than previously expected. The testimony of SPD minister of the interior Otto Schily is currently scheduled for June.

In April 2005 the media reported that there were difficulties in 2004. Fischer claimed the difficulties were resolved in mid-2004. Eckart von Klaeden said on the main German television channel ZDF that the Commission of Inquiry wanted to investigate the differing statement of Mr. Fischer in March 2005. On April 21, the Commission of Inquiry heard Ludger Volmer and his predecessor, Günther Pleuger. This Commission of Inquiry hearing (duration: more than 12 hours) was the first such hearing broadcasted by television (and was watched by more than 400,000 people). The second such hearing was the April 25 hearing of Joschka Fischer in the Commission of Inquiry (duration: 14 hours, viewed by 700,000 viewers alone at the "Phoenix" TV network, a 10.5% quota). Fischer said that he is political responsible, that many details cannot be remembered by him, and that he would have acted earlier if he would have been informed earlier. He also told about new monitoring mechanisms implemented in the "Auswärtiges Amt". After the hearing, members of the CDU/CSU continued to ask for Fischers retirement, whereas members of SPD and The Greens said that Fischer performed well and that the CDU/CSU members in the commission were not able to show evidence for their accusations.

May 2005: The German ambassador to Ukraine said the visa policies of Fischer were lax and eased the application of visas. He also said that the Volmer Decree unmotivated the employees at the embassy.

June 2, 2005: The Commission of Inquiry was adjourned today after a short session of only 30 minutes. The commission called an end to the hearing of evidence with the majority of its SPD/The Greens members. CDU and FDP on the other hand are likely to appeal to the Constitutional Court should this matter be dropped permanently. Some ministers, who were due to appear before the commission (e.g. Otto Schily was summoned for 8 July; or others like Frank-Walter Steinmeier of the Federal Chancellory), will not be questioned according to today's events. Apparently, the work of the commission is cut short by the widely anticipated call for a General Election in late summer (most probably on 18 September 2005).

June 15, 2005: In a provisional ruling today, the Constitutional Court considered the end of the hearings of evidence, as mentioned above on June 2, as unconstitutional and ordered the Commission of Inquiry to continue with its timetable as planned as long as the Federal Diet isn't dissolved due to the expected call for a snap election later this summer. This would mean the cancelled hearings of ministers like Mr. Schily (Minister of the Interior) and Mr. Steinmeier (Minister of State of the Federal Chancellory) will most likely take place after all.

ee also

*German politics

External links

* [http://service.spiegel.de/cache/international/0,1518,343108,00.html "Joschka Fischer with His Back Against the Wall", Der Spiegel, 22 February 2005] (see "Der Spiegel" on Wikipedia)
* [http://service.spiegel.de/cache/international/0,1518,343160,00.html "Battling Human Trafficking in Germany", Spiegel, 22 February 2005]
* [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4264793.stm "German visa policy sparks furore", 14 February 2005 on BBC] (see BBC on Wikipedia)
* [http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,1564,1502332,00.html "Fischer Goes on Offensive in Visa Affair", 26 February 2005 on "Deutsche Welle"] (see "Deutsche Welle" on Wikipedia)


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