Bonn shifts to right on asylum law

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The Independent Online
BONN'S proposals for toughening Germany's asylum law, to be discussed in parliament today, are the most important indicator to date of the extent to which the unprecedented influx of foreigners, and the growth of intolerance and racist violence, have provoked a strong rightward shift by all the main parties.

Having previously said it wanted only to add a qualifying clause to the constitutional guarantee for victims of political persecution, Chancellor Helmut Kohl's governing coalition has now made clear it intends to scrap the existing Article 16: 'Persons persecuted on political grounds shall enjoy the right of asylum'.

Effectively, the government is proposing to remove this fundamental guarantee with its section of the amendment motion which allows for all cases of 'obviously unfounded' applicants to be summarily expelled. The government wants Germany's new asylum law based on the Geneva Convention for Refugees, which will in turn be qualified by a list of conditions. The main one is a list of countries judged not to be affected by political persecution, and from which no applicant will be accepted. This, in Bonn's view, applies to nearly all of Eastern Europe, which would cut the influx dramatically.

What drove the coalition, after more than a year of bickering, finally to agree on a hard line, was the palpable fear of social tensions escaping political control. Far more worrying for the main parties than the brutal outbreaks of xenophobic violence, which is still limited to a small minority, has been the evidence of growing intolerance towards foreigners among the population at large, combined with an unprecedented breakdown in confidence in the established political forces.

The Chancellery and Interior Ministry are reeling from confidential horror scenarios showing a strong rise in support for the extreme-right Republicans, should the massive influx of foreigners not be brought under control. This year some 400,000 are expected to come into the country.

Just as the governing coalition has moved rightwards in the hope of heading off growing support for the extreme- right, so too has the leadership of the opposition Social Democrats. This took the form of an historic decision in August to abandon the SPD's resistance to any change to the constitution. The party leader, Bjorn Engholm, shares the worry of the centre-right that voters will desert in droves if the SPD does not 'come to terms with reality'. But his party is deeply split on the issue.

Leading article, page 26

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