Let $V$ be a smooth connected algebraic variety over an algebraically closed field $k$. Let $W_1, W_2$ be closed subvarieties of $V$ of positive codimension whose intersection $W_1 \cap W_2$ has codimension at least 2, and let $p$ be a point in $V \backslash (W_1 \cup W_2)$. Then we can form the four etale fundamental groups

$$ \pi_1( V, p ), \pi_1(V \backslash W_1, p), \pi_1(V \backslash W_2, p ), \pi_1(V \backslash (W_1 \cup W_2), p ).$$

There are canonical surjective homomorphisms from $\pi_1(V \backslash W_1, p)$ and $\pi_1(V \backslash W_2, p)$ to $\pi_1(V, p)$, and from $\pi_1(V \backslash (W_1 \cup W_2),p)$ to $\pi_1(V \backslash W_1, p)$ and $\pi_1(V \backslash W_2, p)$, forming a commuting square. (The surjectivity comes from the fact that a connected finite etale cover of a smooth variety remains connected even if one removes a positive codimension piece from the base.) So there is a canonical homomorphism from $\pi_1(V \backslash (W_1 \cup W_2),p)$ to the fibre product $\pi_1(V \backslash W_1, p) \times_{\pi_1(V,p)} \pi_1(V \backslash W_2,p)$.

My question is: is this latter homomorphism necessarily surjective also?

In the case when $k$ has characteristic zero, I believe I can deduce this from the topological van Kampen theorem, after first using the Riemann existence theorem to describe the etale fundamental group as the profinite completion of the topological fundamental group (after passing to a complex model). In the positive characteristic case, it seems to boil down (if I understand the etale fundamental group construction correctly) to verifying the following fact: if one has two finite etale covers of $V \backslash W_1$ and $V \backslash W_2$ respectively that become isomorphic on restriction to $V \backslash (W_1 \cup W_2)$, then they can be "glued" together to create a finite etale cover of $V$ (or of $V \backslash (W_1 \cap W_2)$). By reasoning in analogy with the topological case, this seems very reasonable to me, but I had trouble verifying it rigorously (I could glue together the covers as a prevariety, but then I couldn't establish separability to make the cover a variety again).

`$V\setminus (W_1\cup W_2)$`

equals the étale fundamental group of $V$. $\endgroup$ – Jason Starr Oct 24 '12 at 10:53