Bavaria balks at EU immigration rules

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The Independent Online
EUROSCEPTIC Bavaria opened a second front yesterday in its ongoing war with Brussels, demanding an opt-out from European Union-wide immigration rules.

In an unprecedented ultimatum, the Bavarian government threatened to vote against the Amsterdam Treaty unless it was given licence to bar non- EU nationals who are legally resident in another EU member state.

The agreement signed by European leaders in Amsterdam last year called for an EU-wide regime on immigration. Britain and Ireland opted-out from some of its provisions, while Germany had led the group of nations pushing for common rules.

But the Bavarians, who are bitterly opposed to all aspects of European integration, including monetary union, have their own ideas for welcoming foreigners. The government in Munich wants to impose special rules, requiring proof from immigrants that they have a job and health insurance in Bavaria. The real purpose of such a measure is to discourage foreigners from even trying.

These proposed rules are not aimed at Third World asylum-seekers. They will eventually find it almost impossible to enter the EU. Munich is concerned with itinerant East Europeans who have gained a foothold in the community and might be tempted to wander into prosperous Bavaria.

The new restrictions would be against the spirit as well as the letter of the Amsterdam Treaty, which seeks to encourage the free movement of people within Fortress Europe. Munich has asked Bonn to intercede on its behalf by attaching a protocol to Treaty spelling out Bavaria's position. Otherwise, the Bavarian government says it will oppose the ratification of the Treaty in the German federal chamber, the Bundesrat. Bonn has three weeks to comply.

The Bavarians cannot stall on the treaty for ever, but can cause severe political damage to the federal government. Chancellor Helmut Kohl's tenuous majority in parliament needs the vote of every member of the party that rules in Munich, the Christian Social Union.

The CSU has only now abandoned its bruising campaign against German participation in European Monetary Union, and is clearly looking for another axe to grind. With regional elections approaching, the Bavarian Prime Minister, Edmund Stoiber, is keen to exploit the anti-European sentiments of his voters.

For Chancellor Kohl, whose wobbly coalition fell apart and suffered a rare defeat in Parliament yesterday, the bitter row with Munich could not have come at a worse time. He faces national elections in September with his troops in complete disarray.