Th, 24.02.2005

* Bundestag Begins with Ratifying EU-Constitution
* EU Ministers Agree on 'Borderless Tickets'
* EU-wide Ban of NS Symbols off the Table
* BKA-Official Ratzel to Become Europol Chief
* Beck Deems Meeting with Bush a Milestone
* Hartz IV talks adjourned until April
* BKA had early knowledge of visa abuse
* Trade Unions in Crisis
* Districts Bemoan Financial Problems
* Following Deficits, HypoVereinsbank to Cut Jobs
* Token strikes in the public service sector
* e.on Bavaria Increases Price of Electricity by 3.3 Percent
* Radiation Victim Demands Compensatory Damages
* 'White Rose': new audio stations added to Munich memorial
* 200 days of free online research for schools
* Exchange Rates and Stock Markets

Bundestag Begins with Ratifying EU-Constitution

The process to ratify the first European Union constitution has begun in the Bundestag. Representatives of all parties agree that the EU constitution represents a "milestone of European integration" and must be ratified quickly. Both the Bundestag and the Bundesrat want to ratify it before the summer break. Ratification requires a two-thirds majority in both houses. Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer is pushing for a "clear, quick and correct decision with the broadest possible majorities" for the EU constitution. Fischer called the document a "decisive building block for Europe." He also stressed that without the constitution, the EU's eastern expansion completed last year was "only unfinished work." The constitution is supposed to make the EU more democratic, more transparent, and more capable of acting. The State Minister for Europe, Hans Martin Bury (SPD), expressed the hope that Germany could "contribute to a positive ratification dynamic in Europe" by ratifying it quickly. Even the Christian Democratic and Christian Social Union do not intend to hinder ratification, even though they are calling for the Bundestag to have a stronger voice. The ruling coalition of SPD and the Greens has rejected this demand. In the name of the Union-dominated Bundesrat, the State Premier of Baden-Wuerttemberg, Erwin Teufel, re-emphasized the call for giving the Bundestag more of a say with regard to the EU constitution. The CDU politician particularly stressed the subsidiarity principle that grants the state only such powers that are supplementary to the responsibilities of smaller communities. Thus, he continued, European responsibilities were only those that went beyond what the nation-states could handle alone. Everything else would be left to the states. Teufel added, Europe would not be strong if it were dealing with a thousand little things, rather if it were dealing with the right things - such as common foreign and security policy. Speaking for the Free Democratic Party, Werner Hoyer lamented that the majority of the Bundestag had rejected a plebiscite on the draft constitution. Several speakers before the Bundestag made clear that a constitution did not make the integration process complete. Last Sunday, Spaniards were the first in an EU country to ratify the constitution in a plebiscite. The parliaments in Hungary, Slovenia and Lithuania had previously ratified the constitution. Aside from Spain, eight of the 25 member states intend to let the people vote on the ratification of the constitution in plebiscites.

EU Ministers Agree on 'Borderless Tickets'

Brussels. In 2007, the latest, motorists can no longer expect that traffic offenses committed in the EU abroad will remain without consequences. The EU Justice Ministers, after years of working out the details, decided that fines will receive reciprocal acknowledgement. A driver's home country is required to collect fines for driver errors of 70 euro or more.

EU-wide Ban of NS Symbols off the Table

Brussels. An EU-wide ban of Nazi symbols for now is off the table. A majority of the Justice Ministers rejected such a ban at a meeting in Brussels, due to its impact on freedom of expression. Among those voting No were the UK, Denmark, Italy and Hungary. German Justice Minister Zypries continues to hold on to her position that, on principle, the use of NS symbols should be prohibited.

BKA-Official Ratzel to Become Europol Chief

Brussels. The European police agency Europol will be led by Max-Peter Ratzel, a German. He used to be Department President at the Federal Criminal Police Office, responsible for the fight against organized and general crime. The vote of the EU Ministers of the Interior was unanimous. Ratzel succeeded against competitors from France, Italy and Spain.

Beck Deems Meeting with Bush a Milestone

Mainz. The State Premier of Rhineland-Palatinate, Kurt Beck (SPD), called yesterday's German-American summit in Mainz a "milestone in international politics." The city and the police also gave a positive assessment and said they were satisfied with the visit. The visit could bring a new quality of cooperation between Europe and the USA, Beck said. At the same time, he expressed regret at the extraordinary security measures that caused a very difficult situation. He gave special thanks to the 7,148 police officers deployed in the state. In order to make up for the loss in sales suffered by businesses in Mainz, the state will allow stores to open on a Sunday if the city requests it. One day after the visit by US President George W. Bush in Mainz, the Green Party in the state parliament has demanded an exact accounting of the costs for the stringent security precautions. There must be clarity about the visit's financial consequences for Mainz, the Rhine-Main region and the state, asserted Greens state parliamentary party chairwoman Ise Thomas. In addition to the personnel costs for the massive police presence, the material costs for Rhineland-Palatinate and the affected communities had to be itemized, she continued. Thomas also wondered what chances the state government thought it had to recoup its expenses from the federal government and whether retailers would make claims for compensation. In addition, the Greens want to be informed about the economic losses suffered by local businesses and retailers. This afternoon, Bush met with the Russian President Vladimir Putin in Slovakia.

Hartz IV talks adjourned until April

A meeting between labor unions and Chancellor Schroeder concerning possible changes to the Hartz IV labor market reforms has come to an end without concrete results. German Federation of Unions (DGB) head Sommer stated that talks would cover the situation of older workers as well as special labor market policies for eastern Germany. Discussions would also concern adjustments to the minimum rates for unemployment assistance. Both sides intend to meet again in April.

According to a report in the "Rheinischer Post," the exploding costs of Hartz IV can be traced to specific manipulations by Minister of Economics Wolfgang Clement. According to the report, Clement intentionally understated the number of unemployment assistance recipients in 2004 in order to reduce the consequential costs on paper and thus the 2005 budget. The newspaper cited negotiation protocols between Clement and the German Conference of Cities on May 15, 2004, in which 2.4 million recipients were forecast, whereas Clement is said to have only budgeted 2.1 million.

The Allgemeine Ortskrankenkasse (AOK, a major health insurance company) in Rhineland-Palatinate has accused the local councils of reporting social welfare assistance recipients who are unable to work as fit for employment. Chair of the state party Walter Bockemoehl confirmed the accusations of minister Clement (SPD) in the SWR (Southwest German Radio). In the AOK alone, according to Bockemoehl, there are a hundred cases in the state where the local councils have reported individuals as fit for employment although they were not. As examples, he cited patients in recovery from heart transplants or people who have been classified in the healthcare system as second-tier for several years. In an interview on SWR1 Rhineland-Palatinate, however, Bockemoehl said that he was not prepared to label this systematic abuse.

BKA had early knowledge of visa abuse

According to chief commissioner Rueckheim of the federal criminal agency before an investigation committee of the Bundestag, the German embassy in Kiev apparently at any early stage cited decrees from the Foreign Ministry as a reason for the irregularities in the controversy surrounding massive visa abuses. Rueckheim said that he visited the visa office in Kiev in February 2001 at the request of the department head there. No later than May 2002, he said, a letter was sent from the BKA (Federal Bureau of Investigation) leadership to the governmental department. The number of visas issued from the Kiev embassy doubled in early 2001.

Hans-Peter Kemper (SPD), chairman of the NRW members of parliament in the Bundestag, called on Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer to address the issue quickly before the committee. Kemper said that since a majority of the committees leadership is from the ruling coalition, Fischer could make his statements within two or three weeks.

Minister of the Interior Otto Schily indirectly defended Fischer by holding the embassy itself responsible for the errors. In Brussels Schily said that the investigation needed to look into the embassy itself and how it issues visas. According to Schily, mistaken instructions from Berlin were almost certainly not to blame: "If the rules had been wrong, then the problems would have cropped up in embassies everywhere." He then stated that this was not the case.

Trade Unions in Crisis

Trade unions expect to further lose clout. According to an internal study of the German Federation of Unions (DGB - Deutscher Gewerkschaftbund), available to German public TV station ARD, it has become more and more difficult to retain members. The study points out that the unions basically just defend the successes they achieved; they lack "new goals to fight for" as well as concepts for dealing with the structural change. Today, Union representatives want to talk with Chancellor Schroeder about corrections to Hartz IV.

Districts Bemoan Financial Problems

Stuttgart. Empty coffers at the municipalities. Many districts of Baden-Wuerttemberg are insolvent. District Council (Landkreistag) President Edgar Wais in Stuttgart announced cuts in local public transportation, at public vocational schools / technical colleges and in environmental protection. Wais stated that, as a financial instrument, the District Levy (Kreisumlage) has failed. Even though the levy to be paid by municipalities on a state average was raised by more than 3 points to almost 37 percent, the districts are not taking any more in than they did the previous year. This is due to the fact that the overall tax capacity of the municipalities has sunk from 6.7 billion eruo in 2004 to 6.5 billion euro in 2005. In additioin, there are growing expenses for social and juvenile assistance. In light of this, it is incomprehensible that the state not only continues its interference with the burden-sharing scheme, but is even increasing its interference.

Following Deficits, HypoVereinsbank to Cut Jobs

Munich. The job cuts at large German banks continue. Following Deutsche Bank, HypoVereinsbank now announced drastical cuts. By 2007, up to 2,400 positions will have been eliminated, according to a Board statement. According to these plans, personnel will primarily be surplussed at the group's headquarters, as well as at its securities consulting unit and at the call centers. Due to write-offs of bad real estate loans, HypoVereinsbank had a loss of more than two billion euro in the past year.

Token strikes in the public service sector

Trier. Fewer workers than expected took part in token strikes organized by the public service labor union ver.di in Rhineland-Palatinate. In Trier and Kaiserslautern, strikes were even canceled due to low participation. According to union sources, only about 150 employees took time away from work at the State Office for Building and Construction in Mainz and Koblenz and the State Office for Data and Information in Mainz. In Baden-Wurttemberg, ver.di continued its protests against the states collective bargaining policy. Baden-Wurttemberg does not want to adopt the federal collective bargaining agreement. More than 700 participants protested at universities. Thousands of state employees in Lower Saxony and Bremen from the general administration office, the health ministries, and from universities were also called on to participate in strikes.

e.on Bavaria Increases Price of Electricity by 3.3 Percent

Munich. Energy provider group e.on Bavaria is increasing its price for electricity by 3.3 percent, claiming that this is necessary due to the increased prices for coal, oil and natural gas, and also caused by additional costs incurred as a result of the Law Regarding Renewable Energy Sources [Gesetz ueber erneuerbare Energien].

Radiation Victim Demands Compensatory Damages

Landau. Following the plutonium theft four years ago in Karlsruhe, a 21- year old woman from Landau now is demanding compensatory damages of at least 20,000 euro. The woman had been contaminated by radio-active material. Her mother had been living with the man who stole the radio-active material from the nuclear reprocessing plant in Karlsruhe (WAK - Wiederaufbereitungsanlage Karlsruhe) in the autumn of 2000. The mother had also been radio-actively contaminated, and has already collected compensatory damages in the five figure range, as was confirmed by the women's attorney's office. The state of Rhineland-Palatinate is demanding money from the nuclear reprocessing plant as well, to the tune of two million euro that were spent on decontamination of two radio-actively contaminated dwellings in the South-Palatinate. According to a spokesman of the Environmental Ministry, negotiations between the state and the WAK appear to be approaching a solution; it might even be possible to come to an understanding within this year.

'White Rose': new audio stations added to Munich memorial

Munich. The memorial for the "White Rose" resistance movement at the University of Munich will provide audio stations in the future. Bavarian Radio has compiled original audio recordings of witnesses, which will be accompanied by explanatory texts read by actors Senta Berger and Udo Wachtveitl. The material is two hours in length and visitors will have access to it at various terminals equipped with headphones. The memorial is dedicated to the group surrounding the Scholl siblings who were executed by the Nazi regime.

200 days of free online research for schools

Mannheim. Brockhaus has made a special offer to all schools in Germany this year: between February 28 and September 16, 2005, schools can use all of the publisher's online encyclopedias free of charge. A total of 18 encyclopedias are available, including "Brockhaus in 15 volumes." The service is designed both for teachers preparing lessons as well as students completing homework or conducting research. As part of the research options in the 15-volume Brockhaus encyclopedia, the user has access to a network of visually organized information with cross-references to articles on related topics based on the keyword entered. This provides the user with a quick overview of the specific subject matter. In addition to this information network, lists of recently updated articles as well as the most popular ones encourage users to explore further.

Exchange Rates and Stock Markets

Selected currencies:
US (1 US$) 0.7540 Euro
Canada (1 Cdn$) 0.6045 Euro
Britain (1 Pound) 1.4409 Euro
Switzerland (100 SFr) 64.960 Euro
Japan (100 Y) 0.7199 Euro
Sweden (100 SKr) 11.013 Euro
South Africa (100 R) 13.054 Euro
Selected indices:
Dax: 4304.29 (current)
Dow Jones: 10660.86 (17:00 CET)
Nikkei: 11531.15
(Errors and omissions excepted)


DLF    12:00 CET    18:00 CET
BR5    06:00 CET    12:00 CET    18:00 CET
SWR3    12:00 CET    18:00 CET

Translator: JD & LSL & RG