News Digest: "Latent Racism"

By David HudsonWith his new anti-"green card" slogan, the challenger in the race to head the government of the important state of North Rhine Westphalia unleashes a storm of criticism. Also: Germany's high tech stocks are taking a beating, too.

When Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, a Social Democrat (SPD), introduced his idea of granting "green cards" to foreign high tech specialists, that is, inviting them from places such as eastern Europe and Asia to work for a limited time in Germany, the Christian Democrats (CDU) snapped back with a slogan: "Kinder statt Inder", or "Children, not Indians".

Even Jürgen Rüttgers (CDU) thought that was a bit much. Rüttgers is currently campaigning to unseat Wolfgang Clement (SPD) on May 14 as state premier in the wealthy and politically vital state of North Rhine Westphalia (NRW).

Behind the slogan is the CDU position that, as Germany races to catch up with the demands of the new economy, educating Germans in the field of information technology should take priority over importing IT workers. But Rüttgers has openly agreed with critics blasting the slogan as blatantly xenophobic.

Nevertheless, the CDU in NRW has begun putting up posters with a new slogan Rüttgers fully supports: "More education instead of more immigration". The party is also sending out a first round of 100,000 postcards to voters who can check a box declaring their support of the campaign.

The move echoes a petition drive led by Roland Koch (CDU) when he was successfully campaigning to head up the state government in Hesse in early 1999. The issue at the time was the federal government's plan to grant children of foreigners born in Germany (as well as adults who met certain criteria) the opportunity to hold dual citizenships. The CDU was opposed and lost, but Koch ultimately won in Hesse.

"Mr. Rüttgers's campaign is not thought through and is pitifully populistic," Dieter Hundt, president of the Employer's Association tells the newspaper "Die Thüringer Allgemeinen": "It doesn't address the needs of IT sector." SPD party chairman in NRW and SPD general secretary Franz Müntefering goes so far as to call Rüttgers "a danger to growth and employment." Roland Appel, head of the Greens' parliamentary faction in NRW accuses Rüttgers of "latent racism paired with economic short-sidedness."

There's a reason Rüttgers is willing to put up with this sort of criticism, just as Koch put up with it last year. A recent poll shows that 60 percent of the voters in NRW are opposed to allowing foreign high tech specialists into the country.

Germany and Europe on the Web today:

During the war in Kosovo, Germany took far more refugees than any other European country. Now, as authorities begin sending back 170,000 refugees, the United Nations and NATO are accusing Germany of deporting criminals. Christian Jennings reports in the "Independent" and quotes a European NATO official: "These are exactly what this province doesn't need at the moment. There's no workable justice system, no proper judges, a huge crime rate, and now they're dumping murderers on us." Also: Stephen Castle on western Europe's plans to prop up the Balkan economy.

European parliamentarians were piping mad and provided television news broadcasts with a nice batch of snappy quotes on Thursday as they launched their inquiry into Echelon, the espionage system set up by the US, UK and other English-speaking countries. It was the Green/EFA Group in Brussels that called for the inquiry: "The Greens want to know if the EU Commission and the Council have done enough to protect EU citizens from being spied on in their professional and private lives." But in "Telepolis", Jelle van Buuren finds the response from the EC's Erkki Liikanen, responsible for Enterprise and Information Society, "blurry" at best.

The six "new" German states, the ones that were once East Germany, are not a bottomless pit of need, says Reinhard Höppner, Saxony Anhalt's state premier. "There is a bottom. But at the moment the pit is only half full." Toby Helm reports in the "Telegraph" on a call from the east for 400 to 500 billion marks ($200 to 250 billion) to help bring the standard of living up to that of the west. Even so, that won't happen before 2030, all six state premiers agreed. Also: Chancellor Schröder's new plan "echoes Tony Blair's drive to create a 'stakeholder economy'."

As for the "Telegraph" itself, the feud between publisher Conrad Black and the British Ambassador to Berlin over the paper's coverage of Germany has come to a happy end after an exchange of letters.

"Internet Scandal!" blared the headline of Germany's biggest tabloid, "Bild". Well, for a day anyway. "Bild" discovered that the "link of the month" at the Family Ministry site took clickers to a site featuring "gigolo services," reports the BBC. That link's gone now, of course.

The Neue Markt, Germany's loose equivalent of NASDAQ, suddenly shed around 8 percent of its overall value on Thursday, and on Friday morning, it dipped below the psychological barrier of 7,000 points. Jitters arising from the perceived overvaluation of tech stocks weighed heavily on the DAX as well. Deutsche Telekom, SAP, Siemens and Epcos, which had been pushing the DAX higher, suddenly whipped into reverse. The BBC's Steve Schifferes talks to analysts about the downturn throughout Europe.

Deutsche Telekom had been set on floating T-Online on the Neue Markt at a price of between 35 and 50 euros. The "Financial Times" reports that DT is now thinking more along the lines of 30 to 40 euros.

In an interview with the "Prague Business Journal", Deutsche Telekom executive vice president Moritz Gerke explains why his company is the largest foreign investor in the Czech Republic and outlines DT's future strategy in the region.

The "Economist" outlines BMW chief executive Joachim Milberg's four-pronged strategy for fending off the big car group's interested in snapping up his company. Also: The magazine's assessment of the EU's "dotcom" summit last week is hardly upbeat: "Europe will build its new economy 'in a manner consistent with its values and concepts of society', i.e., slowly and late."

But the "McKinsey Quarterly" dives deeper and concludes, "any thought that Europe will remain several steps behind the United States may well prove wrong."

A package of stories on European airspace from the standard read for travellers, the "International Herald Tribune". Barry James reports that Eurocontrol, which co-ordinates air-traffic control centers throughout the continent, aims to cut flight delays by 50 percent over 1999. But Joseph Fitchett reports that airlines have to compete for airspace with the military, as they did during the war in Kosovo.

"Statements is about bathrooms as staging grounds of a body-directed social aesthetic, as gleaming technologies for the construction of the hygienic cosmetic self. It is, in short, an art magazine about bathrooms." In "Metropolis", Matt Steinglass discovers a German publication on "Kultur im Bad", i.e., bathroom culture.

"Image control was the order of the day under militant Lutheranism." Arthur C. Danto explains in the "Nation" how the works of Franconian sculptor Tilman Riemenschneider survived the political turmoil of his day.

Deutsche Grammophon is releasing a 21-CD set of recordings by legendary singer Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. At 75, he has loads of advice to pass on, as Stephen Moss discovers in the "Guardian": "The danger for young musicians is that they can become part of the commercial machine. Very often the natural development of a talent is hindered by that."

Note: Free registration is required for The Financial Times, The Guardian and The McKinsey Quarterly.

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