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Thursday, 6 April, 2000, 19:40 GMT 20:40 UK
Germans debate technology v immigration
computer
German industry wants more foreign computer workers
By Patrick Bartlett in Frankfurt

The German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, has described as indecent a campaign opposing a plan to ease immigration restrictions to allow thousands of foreign computer experts to work in the country.

His remarks were directed at a leading opposition politician, who coined the controversial slogan "Kinder statt Inder" (children instead of Indians) to imply that Germany should train its own computer workers instead of recruiting them from countries such as India.

newspaper
An Indian newspaper called Ruettgers the "German Haider"
The so-called "green card" proposal has provoked a heated debate about immigration policy and about Germany's ability to compete in the internet economy.

Under the green card plan, up to 20,000 temporary work permits will be issued to skilled computer experts from outside the European Union.

Mr Schroeder wants legislation ready for cabinet approval by next month. But his initiative has re-opened a highly-charged debate about Germany's willingness to assimilate foreigners.

Mr Schroeder's remarks in parliament were directed at Juergen Ruettgers, leader of the Christian Democrat opposition in the industrial state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Schroder
Gerhard Schroeder called the campaign "indecent"

Mr Schroeder said his campaign against the green card plan was both indecent and economically damaging.

Mr Ruettgers faces important regional elections in May, and most leading Christian Democrats, while distancing themselves from his more controversial remarks, have supported the thrust of his campaign.

Unions critical

German industry believes tens of thousands of foreign workers are needed urgently to stop the country falling behind in the internet-based economy.

But with four million out of work, the idea of giving jobs to outsiders is proving hard to sell.

Trade unions, for instance, say the jobs should be filled by retraining suitably qualified unemployed people.

The most outspoken opposition however has come from the Right.

Mr Ruettgers' populist style has prompted critics to compare him to the Austrian nationalist Joerg Haider.

But he appears to have struck a chord with many ordinary Germans.

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