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Steinbach’s halfhearted compromise

Erika Steinbach will have little success trying to outwit those in the German government opposed to her joining a foundation for people displaced after World War II, argues Ludwig Greven from Zeit Online.

Steinbach's halfhearted compromise
Photo: DPA

Following months of rancour and dispute, the Federation of Expellees (BdV) has offered to forgo having its controversial chairwoman Erika Steinbach put on the board of the Foundation for Flight, Expulsion, Reconciliation. But what Steinbach is attempting to sell as a noble gesture is in truth nothing more than self-serving political posturing. This is because the BdV has attached conditions to the offer that will hardly be acceptable to the German government. Not only does the BdV want to eliminate governmental approval for nominees to the foundation’s board, but it also wants more than the three seats it already has.

Without a doubt, Steinbach and the BdV have been the driving force behind the creation of the foundation. The planned centre for expellees it will control is meant to remember the fate of those persons forced to leave their homelands across Europe because of the war started by Germany more than seven decades ago. But – just as its name implies – the foundation is intended to facilitate reconciliation as well. Steinbach stands in the way of this regardless if she wants to believe it or not.

The head of the expellees’ lobby group and a Christian Democratic parliamentarian, Steinbach certainly is not the evil revanchist she is portrayed to be by the Polish media and some politicians from Germany’s eastern neighbour. In fact, she has even opposed the demands for compensation by a few radical German expellees. However, she has also made inflammatory comments in the past and her quick rejection of the Oder-Neiße border has made her an object of hate in Poland. Even though her image in much of Eastern Europe has become an overly simplified caricature, there can be no reconciliation with her participation at the foundation.

Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has rejected giving Steinbach a key role for the same good reasons his predecessor Frank-Walter Steinmeier did. The latest offer from BdV will not change Westerwelle’s mind or that of his party the Free Democrats (FDP). Were the government to give in to the BdV’s demands now it would create the impression that the foundation is simply a project for the expellees, but it’s long since moved beyond that.

The centre for expellees was agreed to only after tortuous talk with Poland. In order to alleviate remaining concerns there, a law was passed attaching the foundation to the German Historical Museum in Berlin. This was to ensure the remembrance of the expulsions of Germans at the end of World War II was not taken out of the context of the uniquely unjust Nazi military aggression responsible for them.

The German government cannot accept any compromise that calls this into question. The Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU), has long considered itself the advocate for German expellees and has signalled its support for the latest Steinbach proposal. Some members of the CDU would like to back it as well. Westerwelle and the FDP have said they’ll consider it, but they aren’t like to go along with it.

In the end it will come down to the chancellor. Up till now she’s merely avoided the issue by pointing out Steinbach hadn’t yet been officially nominated for the foundation by the BdV, postponing any final decision by her cabinet. But now an ultimatum has been put on the table by the expellees: if the government doesn’t agree to its conditions, the group will nominate Steinbach for the foundation.

At that point Merkel can no longer continue to prevaricate. She’ll have to decide: is the historic reconciliation with Poland and good relations with Germany’s eastern neighbours more important than placating some of her own conservatives? Will she act as chancellor and a stateswoman or a party politician and powerbroker? She cannot be both in this case.

This commentary was published with the kind permission of Zeit Online, where it originally appeared in German. Translation by The Local.

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Reader question: How do you meet the requirements for a sambo visa?

In Sweden, a sambo is domestic partner – someone you’re in a relationship with and live with, but to whom you aren’t married. If you, as a non-EU citizen, are in a sambo relationship with a Swedish citizen, you can apply for a residence permit on the basis of that relationship. But meeting the requirements of that permit is not always straightforward.

Reader question: How do you meet the requirements for a sambo visa?

An American reader, whose son lives with his Swedish partner, wrote to The Local with questions about the maintenance requirement her son and his partner must meet in order to qualify for a sambo resident permit.

“Their specific issue is that they meet the requirements for a stable relationship and stable housing, but have been told that qualifying for a sambo visa based on savings is unlikely,” she wrote, asking for suggestions on how to approach this issue. Her son’s partner is a student with no income, but whose savings meet maintenance requirements. But, they have been told by lawyers that Migrationsverket will likely deny the application based on the absence of the Swedish partner’s income.

How do relationships qualify for sambo status?

In order to apply for a residence permit on the basis of a sambo relationship, you and your partner must either be living together, or plan to live together as soon as the non-Swedish partner can come to Sweden. Because this reader’s son is already in Sweden as a graduate student, he can apply for a sambo permit without having to leave the country, provided that his student permit is still valid at the time the new application is submitted.

The Migration Agency notes that “you can not receive a residence permit for the reason that you want to live with a family member in Sweden before your current permit expires”. So once your valid permit is close to expiration, you can apply for a new sambo permit.

What are the maintenance requirements for a sambo permit?

The maintenance requirements for someone applying for a sambo permit fall on the Swedish partner, who must prove that they are able to support both themselves and their partner for the duration of the permit. This includes both housing and financial requirements.

In terms of residential standards that applicants must meet, they must show that they live in a home of adequate size – for two adult applicants without children, that means at least one room with a kitchen. If rented, the lease must be for at least one year.

The financial requirements are more complicated. The Swedish partner must be able to document a stable income that can support the applicant and themselves – for a sambo couple, the 2022 standard is an income of 8,520 kronor per month. This burden falls on the Swedish partner.

While the Migration Agency’s website does say that you may “fulfil the maintenance requirement (be considered able to support yourself) if you have enough money/taxable assets to support yourself, other persons in your household and the family members who are applying for a residence permit for at least two years”, it is unclear how proof of this would be documented. On a separate page detailing the various documents that can be used to prove that maintenance requirements are met, there is nothing about how to document savings that will be used to support the couple.

Can you apply on the basis of savings instead of income?

Well, this is unclear. The Migration Agency’s website does suggest that having enough money saved up to support both members of the sambo relationship is an option, but it gives no details on how to document this. It is also unclear whether applying on the basis of savings will disadvantage applicants, with preference given to applicants who can show proof of income from work.

The Local has reached out to an immigration lawyer to answer this question.