The German Constitutional Court has blocked a landmark immigration law scheduled to take effect at the beginning of 2003, temporarily ending a running dispute between the opposition Christian Democrats and the ruling Social Democrat and Green coalition.
The ruling resulted from a lawsuit filed with the Constitutional Court by the governments of several states controlled by the Christian Democrats. At issue was a decision by the president of the upper house of Parliament, a Social Democrat, to count the state of Brandenburg among those voting for the law, despite claims that the state's officials (who are both Social Democrats and Christian Democrats) had not reached a consensus.
In its decision, the court asserted that by law, state representatives have to reach a consensus on how to cast such votes. The move essentially invalidated the vote cast by Brandenburg, effectively striking down the immigration law.
Immediately after the ruling, Secretary of the Interior Otto Schily declared that the Social Democrats would re-introduce the legislation to Parliament with the content unchanged, since the opposition challenge was based on procedural problems, rather than the law itself.
Edmund Stoiber, the recent Christian Democratic candidate for prime minister, characterized Schily's announcement as a "provocation," adding that the new bill would "never get a majority in the upper house." In his remarks to the press last December, Stoiber had said that the Christian Democrats wanted a law that would "restrict immigration" and "regulate the burden of integration in a different fashion."
The Christian Democrats had opposed the law since its inception, saying it would increase immigration at a time when inflows of foreigners should be restricted. They cited the need to make jobs available to Germany's four million unemployed, and the importance of integrating foreigners already in the country.
The law, the first of its kind in German history (see related story), had been welcomed by labor-hungry business leaders because it would have extended unlimited residence permits to skilled guest workers. However, many refugee rights advocates criticized changes that would have granted approved asylum seekers residence permits of only temporary duration, as well as a perceived failure to provide social and legal improvements for undocumented migrants and immigrant advocates.
The law passed in the Bundestag (lower house of Parliament) on March 1 with the backing of the governing Social Democratic and Green coalition. The law, which contains many of the recommendations of the government-appointed Independent Commission on Migration to Germany, chaired by Rita Suessmuth of the Christian Democrats, was signed by President Johannes Rau on June 20 and would have taken force January 1, 2003.