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September 2002, Volume 9, Number 9

Germany: Campaign, Foreigners, Labor

Germany goes to the polls on September 22, 2002, and the conservative coalition of CDU-CSU-FDP led the governing SPD-Green coalition in opinion polls.

CDU-CSU chancellor candidate Edmund Stoiber named Günther Beckstein, Bavarian interior minister, to be interior minister if there is a CDU-CSU-FDP government. Beckstein would replace current interior minister Otto Schily, one of the most right-leaning and popular members of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's cabinet. In 1997, Beckstein became the first interior minister of a German state to begin forcibly repatriating Bosnian war refugees to the Balkans, and in 1998 ordered "Mehmet," a Turkish youth born in Munich, deported as a habitual offender; a court reversed the Mehmet decision in 2002.

Foreigners. In 2000, about 4.7 million of the 7.3 million foreigners had been in Germany at least eight years, and thus satisfied the residence requirement to apply for naturalization. The fact that so many decided not to naturalize may reflect what some foreigners might see as the small benefits of naturalization. In 2000, some 649,000 foreigners moved to Germany, and 562,000 left, for net migration of 86,000; in 1999, net migration was 118,000.

There were 88,000 asylum applicants in 2001. They receive housing and E198 a month. There are about 250,000 "tolerated" foreigners in Germany, including persons claiming to be too ill to return home, and those repeatedly appealing a rejected asylum application. Germany received more than 43 percent of all asylum applications to the European Union between 1990 and 2000.

Labor. Unemployment reached a three-year high in July 2002, as the number of unemployed reached almost 4.1 million, or 9.7 percent of the labor force of 42 million ; over half of the jobless have been out of work for a year or more. Chancellor Schroeder declared during his campaign in 1998, when there were 4.1 million unemployed, that if he did not cut the number of jobless people to 3.5 million, he did not deserve to be re-elected.

Schroeder appointed the 15-member Hartz Commission to recommend labor market reforms to reduce joblessness after the federal labor agency in February 2002 was found to have been inflating its job placement success. The commission proposed that the federal labor agency's 181 employment offices become one-stop centers, offering job placement and social services in one location, and also to be temporary help agencies, sending unemployed workers to companies needing extra workers. The commission recommended that the upper income limit on jobs exempt from income and social security taxes would rise from E325 a month to E500 a month, and that individuals employed outside the tax system be encouraged to form one-person corporations that would be taxed 10 percent on revenues up to E25,000 a year.

However, recommendations to require jobless workers without families to move to where jobs are available, or have UI benefits reduced if they refused a job "beneath their qualifications," were watered down, as was a job-floater scheme in which employers in the former East Germany could receive low-interest loans in exchange for hiring the long-term unemployed. Unemployment benefits can continue for 32 months. In Germany, which spends about 2.2 percent of GDP on UI benefits, the highest percentage in Europe.

Germany issued 12,500 five-year "green cards" to non-EU computer specialists between August 2000 and July 2002, an average of 500 a month.

"Report: Sharp Increase in Immigrants Seeking German Citizenship," Deutsche Welle, August 25, 2002. Andreas Tzortzis, "Germany mirrors Europe's move to curb immigration," Christian Science Monitor, August 6, 2002.