Germany Wrangles Over New Security Measures

German politicians are proposing ideas ranging from centralizing databases to using electronic ankle tags to prevent terrorist attacks
German police provide security at the Brandenburg Gate, ahead of the upcoming New Year’s Eve celebrations in Berlin, Germany, on Dec 27.German police provide security at the Brandenburg Gate, ahead of the upcoming New Year’s Eve celebrations in Berlin, Germany, on Dec 27.

No issue is more politically sensitive in Germany than security.

Since the Christmas market attack in Berlin on December 19, few days have gone by on which security forces have not been forced to field either criticism from the media, or new suggestions from panicked politicians about how they should be organized, Deutsche Welle reported.

Speaking at an annual meeting of the German civil service association in Cologne on Monday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said the Berlin attack demanded a swift response from the government that guarantees both security and civil liberties, while calling for faster deportations for failed asylum seekers.

Referring to the terror attack at Berlin’s Breitscheidplatz on December 19, Merkel said the attack “urges us to act faster, to act correctly and to not just stop at announcements but also show where we stand”.

Commenting on the Cologne police’s handling of security on New Year’s Eve, she said the officers had behaved “correctly”. The police’s activities that day included targeted security checks on men of North African descent. There were also reports that the police referred to the groups of men using the acronym “Nafris”, triggering a debate on racial profiling in Germany.

The Cologne police tweeted on New Year’s Eve, “Hundreds of Nafris screened at main railroad station.”

On Twitter, the popular German comedian Jan Boehmermann retorted, “What is the difference between Nafri and the [n-word]?”

Police say the term is simply a shorthand they use internally to refer to North Africans and is not derogatory.

Amnesty International denounced the police operation as blatant “racial profiling”.

“Questions over the legality and proportionality arise when nearly 1,000 people are checked and partially stopped only because of their appearance,” senior Green Party politician, Simone Peter, told the Rheinische Post.

 Consensus Over “Common Solutions”

The chancellor also spoke of developing a consensus among political parties in Berlin and finding “common solutions” to classify Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia as secure states of origin, enabling German authorities to send back refugees coming from these countries.

“Officials could decide on an application faster if they knew whether the asylum seeker came from a secure or a dangerous country,” she added. Merkel also spoke in favor of faster deportations, but said it was important that a deal with the countries where these people were being sent back be negotiated “respectfully”.

Deportations to Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia are currently complicated because the countries are not ready to take back citizens who have fled the country.

Members of Merkel’s party, CDU and its coalition partner, the SPD, are now demanding that the European Union reduce aid to these states if they refuse to change their stance.

  Four Basic Freedoms

Merkel also touched on the upcoming Brexit talks with the UK, after its citizens voted last June to leave the EU. She said it was important that “we [the EU] also make clear on the other hand that access to the single market can only be possible on the condition of respecting the four basic freedoms. Otherwise one has to talk about limits [of access].”

These freedoms include free movement of goods, free movement of services and freedom of establishment, free movement of persons (and citizenship), including free movement of workers, and free movement of capital.

British Prime Minister Theresa May had hinted in a television interview at the weekend at a “hard Brexit”, in which border controls were prioritized over market access. Merkel responded by saying that negotiations could not be based on “cherry-picking”.

Britain’s partners in the 28-nation EU have said that limiting immigration would be incompatible with maintaining full access to the bloc’s single market.

On Monday at German Civil Service Federation—a trade union for public servants—Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere repeated his sheaf of new proposals for shoring up Germany’s security.

“We will fundamentally modernize the IT infrastructure at the Federal Criminal Police Office,” the minister promised, after dutifully thanking the officials for their work.

“We’re moving away from the data pots to a big, joint police core data system with an access system that conforms to data protection law.”

  Video Cameras and Ankle Tags

But there is no lack of suggestions about ways that security could be tightened, and even Germany’s center-left liberal parties have not been shy about coming up with ideas.

Berlin State’s new governing coalition of Social Democrats, Greens and the socialist Left party has opened a new debate about expanding video surveillance across the city.

Saarland Interior Minister Klaus Bouillon of CDU has called for all refugees who arrived in Germany over the past two years to be reassessed.

Many of Germany’s major political parties also seem to be forming a consensus on expanding the use of ankle tags.

Federal Justice Minister Heiko Maas of the SPD suggested on Monday that the law be changed so that “Gefahrder” (a non-legal term, literally meaning “endangerers,” used by intelligence agencies to describe someone deemed potentially dangerous) can be fitted with the electronic tags that track the wearer’s location.

He found a ready ear in CDU General Secretary Peter Tauber.  Saying that the tags could be fitted regardless of an “endangerer’s” nationality, Tauber told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper: “Since there are Germans among the Gefahrder whom we can’t deport at all, it’s a reasonable suggestion.”

Maas also had a few other ideas that he intended to bring up in a meeting with de Maiziere this week, including imprisoning, for up to 18 months, all “endangerers” whose asylum applications had been turned down, even if it was not clear when or to where they might be deported (Amri’s application had been turned down, but Tunisia delayed accepting his return).

Under the current law, people can be imprisoned only if their deportation has already been decided.

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