Stuart Eizenstat, former U.S. Ambassador to the European Union who held several positions in the Clinton administration, including undersecretary of Commerce, undersecretary of State and special representative of the president and the secretary of State for Holocaust issues, is the new special negotiator for Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany. He held his first negotiating session in mid-March.
Q: How would you assess that first session?
A: It was excellent — a very intensive two days and we met with the heads of all the major political parties. As you know, I was the chief negotiator for the Clinton administration for Holocaust issues with Germany, and at least at the leadership level there is no Holocaust fatigue. This issue is something that is built into their DNA; there remains a profound commitment to help. This was reinforced not only by the heads of the political parties, but by the eight hours of nonstop negotiations we had and by a reception given for me by the Future Foundation, the $700 million foundation created for private companies so they could make a long-term commitment to Holocaust remembrance projects.
What did the negotiations accomplish?
There were three areas where we made specific breakthroughs. First, there was a reversal by the German government of a longstanding position that people could not apply again who had been turned down during the ‘70s and ‘80s for a onetime hardship payment that amounts to about $4,000 because they had not met the medical criteria. Now, second applications will be accepted.
What kind of figures are we talking about?
About $42 million in additional payments for 13,000 applicants, about half in Israel and 2,400 in the U.S. This is a very significant breakthrough for a group that had been largely uncompensated in the past.
What was the second accomplishment?
There had been a differential in pension payments between those who live in non-EU countries in Eastern Europe, like Bulgaria and Ukraine, and those who live in Eastern European countries that are in the EU. We have given those in non-EU countries a significant boost — a 35-40 percent increase — and equalized the treatment of all of those in Eastern European countries so that they all now get 240 euros ($319) a month. We estimate that will affect about 7,500 people within EU countries and 5,400 people who are in non-EU Eastern European countries.
And what was the third achievement?
It was only partially satisfied—a homecare program for severely disabled survivors. In 2008, they were paying 15 million euros ($20 million) and 30 million euros ($40 million) in 2009. [The 2010 figure will remain the same during the first quarter.]
How did these negotiations differ from when you were negotiating for the Clinton administration?
It was very different because then I was representing the government and people were shooting at me from all directions — victims’ groups, plaintiffs’ attorneys … and we were talking of billions and not millions and a vast number of people benefited. So you are dealing with a different order of magnitude. But this is equally rewarding because there is a far more personal connection and the programs are more finite, like home care. It’s a different kind of satisfaction.