German citizens law in doubt

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The Independent Online
CHASTENED BY the revolt of Middle Germany, Gerhard Schroder's government yesterday prepared to water down its plans to ease the integration of millions of long-term immigrants.

As Social Democrats and Greens licked their wounds following their shock defeat in Sunday night's elections in the central Land of Hesse, leading government figures called for an urgent rethink. "We must draw the consequences from this," declared Oskar Lafontaine, the Social Democratic party (SPD) chairman.

Politicians of every hue agreed that the Christian Democrats had defeated Hesse's red-green coalition by harnessing voters' fears of foreigners. Half a million people had protested about the new nationality law, which would have enabled about four million long-term foreign residents to obtain German citizenship.

With Hesse lost to the opposition, Mr Schroder's administration has forfeited its majority in the upper federal chamber, the Bundesrat. After little more than 100 days in power, the government is threatened with legislative impotence.

Mr Lafontaine said the government would seek to reach "a compromise that everyone can tolerate, so that it cannot be used to whip up anti- foreigner sentiment".

They will have to talk to us now when they want to pass a law," said Angela Merkel, the Christian Democrat general secretary. "That applies both to tax reforms and citizenship reform." On the latter, the opposition will not be able to kill the entire package, because it is itself divided.

The biggest losers on Sunday night were the Greens. This will strengthen Mr Schroder's hand in smothering the party, who Social Democrats feel have been trying to play a greater role than their status and share of seats warrants. Faced with the rapid erosion of their support, the Greens will have little choice but to fall in line.