21st Jan 2019

German visa scandal moves to EU level

A scandal over lax German visa rules, which has dogged foreign minister Joschka Fischer for months, has now moved up to EU level.

The question is whether loopholes in Germany's visa regime, which allowed tens of thousands of eastern Europeans to enter Germany between 2000 and 2003 breached Schengen rules.

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The German foreign ministry finally managed to pass the relevant documents to the European Commission on Friday (29 April), following months of pressure.

According to the Sunday edition of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, EU justice minister Franco Frattini will give his first opinion on the matter by the end of this week.

Ukraine embassy gets busy

The affair started when German visa rules were liberalised to make it easier for citizens of new democratic states in eastern Europe to enter the EU.

Presentation of a specialised insurance document was in some cases enough to obtain a visa and enter Germany.

The embassy in Ukraine's capital, Kiev, was particularly busy and managed to issue 297,000 visas in 2001 alone, according to Deutsche Welle.

The opposition in Germany has claimed the lax visa rules allowed an influx of prostitutes, drug dealers and gangsters from former Soviet satellites.

Fischer admits failure

Mr Fischer admitted failure but accused his political opponents of exaggerating the scale of the problem during a day-long televised testimony last Monday (25 April).

He added that all relevant information had already been passed to the EU autorities. "According to my information, they have received it", he said according to Die Welt.

This turned out to be slightly inaccurate, as the full information was only handed to Brussels at the end of last week - four days after Mr Fischer’s testimony to the German parliamentary inquiry.

Visa for one - visa for all

The Schengen rules have removed all internal border controls and introduced a common visa policy in most EU countries.

Having a valid visa for one of the Schengen states automatically includes the right to stay up to three months in all the other Schengen countries, which is why the German laxity has caught the eyes of Franco Frattini, the EU justice chief.

Full Schengen members include Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden (but not Ireland or the UK) as well as Iceland and Norway (not EU members).

The 10 countries that joined the EU in 2004 do not yet fully participate in Schengen.

Germany led way on EU rights protection

Germany led the way on protection of human rights this year, but Hungary, Italy, and Poland "undermined the EU's moral standing" on the world stage, a leading NGO said.

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