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October 2002, Volume 9, Number 10

Germany, Austria, Switzerland

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and the Social Democratic Party won 38 percent of the vote in September 2002 elections. In the new 601-member Parliament, the coalition SPD-Greens will have 301 seats; the opposition CDU-CSU and Free Democrats will have 294 seats. The campaign was marked by Schroeder's pledge to refuse to support any form of war in Iraq, whether or not authorized by the UN. That was popular in Germany, but increased tensions with the US.

Immigration became a topic in the last week of the campaign.. Challenger Edmund Stoiber, who opposed a new immigration law scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 2003 that will open entry channels for professionals, asserted that "Germany cannot handle any more immigrants...When there are more than four million jobless, then it is irresponsible to open up the job market to everyone." Guenther Beckstein, CSU interior minister in Bavaria, said the SPD-Green government was compromising Germany's economic future with its immigration policy which, he said, also threatened Germany's national identity and would lead to a multicultural society.

The SPD and Greens struck back, arguing that the conservatives were desperate, and would use any issue to "find a topic with which one can arouse emotions."

The citizenship law enacted in 1999 helped to add 900,000 naturalized Germans to the 61-million voter rolls. About 350,000 of these naturalized Germans are of Turkish origin, including 100,000 who naturalized in 1999. About two-thirds of Turkish-Germans support the SPD; another 15 percent back the Greens. Pollsters say Turks are socially conservative on many issues, such as stiffer punishment for crime, and could in the future support the Christian Democrats.

Unemployment in Germany rose slightly to 4.1 million or 9.9 percent in August 2002; unemployment fell to under four million in September 2002. Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said during his winning 1998 campaign that, if his government could not reduce unemployment below 3.5 million, it should not be re-elected. Unemployment in challenger Edmund Stoiber's Bavaria was 5.9 percent.

Germany had 82.4 million residents in December 2001, up 181,000 from December 2000. There were 734,000 births in Germany in 2001, and 828,000 deaths. Some 688,000 foreigners arrived for more than 90-day stays in 2001, including 88,000 asylum seekers; net immigration was about 190,000, bringing the foreign population to 7.3 million.

Some 178,000 resident foreigners became naturalized Germans in 2001, down from 186,000 in 2000; almost half of those naturalizing retained their original citizenship as well, which is allowed for children (until age 23) and in cases in which a person cannot give up her old citizenship, as with Iran. An estimated two million Germans are dual nationals. The German language test to naturalize varies by state-Bavaria requires applicants to pass a written exam, while some other German states require applicants to pass only an oral test.

German data for the first six months of 2002 show declines in arrivals. For example, 36,000 foreigners applied for asylum in the first six months of 2002, down from 40,000 in the same period of 2001. Only 38,000 ethnic Germans arrived in the first six months of 2002, suggesting that their total number for 2002 will be less than the 98,000 of 2001.

Austria. The Freedom Party, which increased its share of the vote to 27 percent in October 1999 elections under the leadership of Carinthia Governor Joerg Haider, formed a coalition government with the conservative People's Party. Haider, who galvanized anti-immigrant and anti-European voters, did not join the government, and resigned as party leader.

Haider in September 2002 forced the resignation of three leading Freedom Party politicians in the coalition government because they supported the government's decision to delay a planned tax cut to pay for the cost of repairing summer 2002 flood damage, and they supported the government's decision to buy 18 fighter jets. The resignations broke up the coalition government and new elections are expected in November 2002. Haider then announced that, because of threats to his family, he would resign as Freedom Party leader; its support in opinion polls fell to 13 -14 percent. Transport Minister Mathias Reichhold replaced Haider as Freedom Party leader.

Austria has four major political parties: the center-right People's Party, the left-leaning Social Democrats, the Greens and the Freedom Party. The major concerns of voters are unemployment and a wariness of EU expansion to East European countries, including four on Austria's borders.

Austria has accommodations for 7,000 asylum applicants. Austria received 30,000 applications for asylum in 2001, and may receive 35,000 to 40,000 in 2002; about 1,000 are accepted as refugees.

Switzerland. Romanian Gypsies are turning up in Switzerland, some 400 in September 2002. Romanian citizens do not need visas to enter France as tourists, and many are believed to travel to France, and then cross into Switzerland on foot. Romania, with 24 million people, officially has 540,000 Roma, but most estimates put the number at over one million.

There are more working poor in Switzerland; 7.5 percent of employed people had earnings below the poverty line in 1999, compared with about five percent in 1995. One reason is the settlement of migrants from ex-Yugoslavia, adding to the low-wage population. Switzerland has no national minimum wage.

Ian Johnson and Birgit Gugath, "Close German Election Puts focus on Turkish Immigrants," Wall Street Journal, September 19, 2002. Clare Murphy, "Immigration enters Germany's election," BBC, September 18, 2002. Emma Thomasson, "Stoiber Puts Immigration on Agenda in German Vote," Reuters, September 16, 2002. Bettina Wassener, "New laws spur on foreign-born voters," Financial Times, September 12, 2002. Chris Burns, "Immigration hot German poll issue," CNN, September 13, 2002. Steven Erlanger, "As the Right Falls Into Disarray, Austrians Call Early Elections," New York Times, September 10, 2002.