Germany Balances Liberty and Security in Face of Terror

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Zwei Polizeibeamte des SEK (Spezialeinsatzkommando) in voller Schutzausrüstung stehen am 14.11.2016 in Hamburg bei einem Pressetermin neben dem neuen Einsatzfahrzeug "Survivor 1" Die Hamburger Polizei und Hamburgs Innensenator Grote stellten am Montag bei einem Medientermin die neue Schutzausstattung der Hamburger Polizei vor. Foto: Christian Charisius/dpa +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++

Spiegel – In the wake of the Berlin terror attack, leading German politicians have begun demanding changes to the country’s security architecture. With fall elections approaching, the issue is set to dominate the campaign. But there’s also a danger of going too far.

Twice a year, interior ministers from Germany’s 16 states gather for a conference somewhere in Germany, with the most prominent guest being Federal Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière. Before the official discussions begin, de Maizière, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), meets with those state interior ministers who are likewise members of the CDU. Over wine and beer, they talk about what’s on their mind.

In 2016, de Maizière repeatedly brought up his ideas for a new security architecture for Germany, according to meeting participants. Should the federal government be responsible for deporting rejected asylum-seekers instead of the states? Should the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) be granted greater powers? Are the structures of the country’s domestic intelligence agency still up to date?

He posed his queries carefully and cautiously, as is his style. His counterparts sipped from their wine glasses, some mumbling noncommittally: We’ll see, maybe but probably not. They were friendly, but dismissive.

De Maizière, however, was not deterred, continuing to talk about his ideas in the federal cabinet, with parliamentarians and with the heads of security agencies. Some agreed with him, but most were circumspect. And ultimately, his vision was shelved — until last Tuesday. Finally, he felt the time was ripe to go public.

In a guest editorial for the influential daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the federal interior minister surprised his party and the entire country with his concept of a “strong state.” At almost the exact same time, Sigmar Gabriel, the head of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), Merkel’s junior coalition partner, presented a paper with his own ideas for a revamped security policy. Gabriel, who is Merkel’s vice chancellor, demanded a tougher approach to potentially violent Salafists. “I am in favor of zero tolerance,” he told SPIEGEL in an interview this week. Angela Merkel and Horst Seehofer, the powerful governor of Bavaria, have likewise reiterated earlier promises that Germany must demonstrate increased severity.

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