BERLIN (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has proposed new security measures in response to an Islamist truck attack on a Berlin Christmas market last month which killed 12 people, triggering fierce debate in an election year.
Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere has floated ideas that go some way to meeting demands from conservative coalition allies in Bavaria, the Christian Social Union (CSU). However, the Social Democrats (SPD), also part of Merkel’s right-left coalition, oppose some of the plans.
Following is a summary of the main proposals and their chances of becoming law.
De Maiziere wants to consider centralising intelligence operations at the federal level. Currently each of Germany’s 16 states has its own intelligence-gathering operations. Even city states like Bremen, with a population of just over half a million, have independent intelligence authorities.
The shortcomings of this approach have been repeatedly highlighted, perhaps most notably in the failure to detect a neo-Nazi cell, the Nationalist Socialist Underground, which murdered 10 people in a 2000-2006 killing spree.
Any changes would probably require amendments to Germany’s laws on its federal structure and states will fight to preserve their powers over intelligence. Bavaria has said flatly that it will never cede control of its intelligence agency.
De Maiziere wants to broaden the remit of federal police and allow them to take the lead on security matters. Currently, nearly 40,000 federal officers have duties such as protecting borders, federal buildings and transport networks and there is also a BKA office responsible for criminal investigations at a federal level. But states are responsible for running most of the country’s police forces, responsible for crime and security.
In particular, de Maiziere highlighted the need for better coordination in monitoring potentially dangerous individuals and said federal police need greater powers in national manhunts.
A bungled police hunt in Saxony in October for a suspected Islamic State supporter believed to have been planning a suicide bomb attack on a Berlin airport underscored the problems. In the end, Syrian refugees caught him but he hanged himself in prison.
The Social Democrats want all data systems of Germany’s federal, regional and local security authorities to be combined, as well as more police officers.
De Maiziere also seeks to create a centre to speed up deportations of failed asylum seekers, after authorities were criticised for not deporting rejected asylum seeker Anis Amri, the Berlin Christmas market attacker, to Tunisia. The government is also working with other countries to make it easier for Germany to send back failed asylum seekers.
De Maiziere also suggested setting up centres to house people due to be deported and allowing authorities to detain people seen as potentially dangerous.
Social Democrats support detentions of potentially dangerous individuals due to be deported. Some conservatives want Islamists suspected of being a security threat to be electronically tagged.
De Maiziere has called for speedy implementation of a European Union agreement to set up a register of people arriving and leaving the 28-nation EU.
His suggestion of transit zones near Germany’s borders where individuals would stay on entering the country until they have undergone security checks has drawn more controversy. He wants such zones to be used until a register is set up.
Bavaria’s CSU says transit zones or centres are indispensable and wants an EU-wide exchange of data including DNA and fingerprints. But the SPD opposes transit zones, arguing that Germany’s main problem is from home-grown terrorists. It says that about half those on Germany’s list of people who pose a threat to the state have German citizenship.
Rigorous and long-standing privacy and data protection laws, a corrective legacy of the Nazi and East German Communist eras, look set to be changed, given polls showing that most Germans now support the installation of more surveillance cameras in public places. The Social Democrats also support this move.
De Maiziere argues that authorities must be allowed to use DNA analysis more, and that biometric analysis via face recognition should be used in searches for terrorists. The CSU supports this idea.
Bavaria’s CSU wants to be able to monitor youths as young as 14 who are seen as susceptible to radicalisation.
Reporting by Madeline Chambers; editing by Mark Heinrich