Busy times in Europe, especially with so much f?tbol to watch. Some notes from all parts:
Germany’s government and opposition have reached a compromise on laws to regulate immigration. It’s only taken three years, but why rush? It’s not as if affairs move quickly here in the 21st century or anything.
Still, the agreement is good news, because the conservative opposition controls Parliament’s upper house and could have derailed legislation they did not like. Even the CDU and CSU have recognized that Germany’s future without immigration is dim and possibly penurious. The right-of-center Frankfurter Allgemeine writes in its lead editorial that the two parties don’t want to be reminded of the days not too long ago when they claimed that “Germany is not a destination for immigration.” High time.
Personally, this is good news, too. “Highly-qualified” foreigners, of which I fancy myself one, should find it easier to come to and stay in Germany. The same should apply to foreign investors, of which I would be if I had sufficient capital. Here in Bavaria, one of the most restrictive states (mandatory AIDS test for a residence permit, anyone?), there was a palpable positive change in the Foreigners’ Offices when the Kohl government gave way to the Schroeder government. Here’s hoping for more progress.
The same newspaper, whose web site really could be much more useful, also reports that some of the hand-picked parliamentarians in Belarus are not as happy with their authoritarian president as he thought they would be when he hand-picked them. A former army general, a three-time Olympic medal winner and another MP, along with eight members of the extra-parliamentary opposition, have started a hunger strike for free elections. Elections in that unhappy country will be held in October, and one of the strikers’ demands is that outside observers should be present when the votes are counted.
Milosevic is beginning his defense in The Hague, and he has asked to call more than 1300 witnesses, including Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Gerhard Schroeder and Hans-Dietrich Genscher. I haven’t been following the trial closely, because I think Julian Barnes covered almost all of it in The Porcupine, back in 1994.
The summit this week is likely to produce a final draft of the constitution for the European Union. The hurdle from December, the formula for a double-majority in the European Council, has been overcome, partly because the governments in Spain and Poland, which had objected most strenuously, have fallen in the meantime and been replaced by governments that object less strenuously. Apparently the biggest hitch right now is how strongly the conditions for the euro (and specifically, how big a deficit a country can run) are to be anchored into the constitution. Taking the lead on each side are the Dutch, speaking in favor of the rules, and the Germans, who originally insisted on the rules but who have been ignoring them like mad for the last three years. This will go down to the wire, but neither country is likely to derail the constitution.
Not so the Czechs, who will probably wait for either a parliamentary vote or a popular referendum to say no. What one or more rejections would mean for the Union is still a very open question. The rock is that the existing procedures and institutions will not work very well with 25 members. The hard place is that numerous member states have to put the constitution to a referendum, and people somewhere, and probably several somewheres, are likely to vote against it. Then what?