quinta-feira, 22 de dezembro de 2016
Conservatives push Angela Merkel to get tough on security
Conservatives push Angela Merkel to get tough on security
German chancellor’s party divided on how to respond to pressure to rethink the country’s approach to surveillance.
By JANOSCH DELCKER 12/21/16, 9:44 PM CET Updated 12/22/16, 7:43 AM CET
BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel is under pressure to get tough on security in the wake of the Christmas market attack, above all from some of her own conservatives who increasingly believe it’s time to consign Germany’s 20th-century hangups about state surveillance to the dustbin of history.
For all Merkel’s insistence that Germany must remain “free, together and open,” there is strong pressure to change the country’s cautious approach to privacy which stems from memories of authoritarian rule. The battles will play out in parliament over the coming months, and will doubtless sharpen the tenor of next year’s election campaign. To the already contentious debate about Merkel’s open door migration policy now add a wrenching discussion of how best to protect Germans from terrorism.
Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière urged that the German lifestyle should remain unaffected “no matter what we find out about the backgrounds and motives of the perpetrators” of the attack that killed 12 people in Berlin on Monday, but voices of dissent are getting louder.
“We can’t just go on with our existing laws,” Klaus Bouillon, regional interior minister for Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) in the state of Saarland, told the Passauer Neue Presse newspaper on Wednesday.
The 69-year-old politician, one of 16 state interior ministers in Germany, appeared to be acting as mouthpiece for the party’s conservative wing, telling Merkel to safeguard the CDU’s traditional image as the bastion of law and order ahead of next year’s elections, when she will seek a fourth term.
His small state in the far West of Germany will be the first of three states to hold regional elections next year, which will be testers for the national vote in September.
As news emerged on Wednesday that the prime suspect was a Tunisian man who had been denied asylum in Germany, and who was still believed to be on the run, armed and dangerous, more conservative politicians echoed Bouillon’s call.
“Even if he didn’t commit this deed, he’s a prime example of an asylum policy which knows no consequences beyond a Willkommenskultur [welcoming culture] — and this needs to change,” said Armin Schuster, a CDU lawmaker, following a meeting with de Maizière in the Bundestag.
The welcome culture he was referring to has become shorthand for Merkel’s decision in the fall of 2015 to temporarily grant safe passage to refugees stranded in Hungary. Since then, her open-door response to the European refugee crisis has led to frustration among some Germans, and helped the far-right, anti-immigrant Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party climb to 12 percent support in polls, up from 4 percent in September 2015.
“Many questions would remain unanswered [even if he was innocent,]” Schuster said, “Why didn’t we manage for him to leave the country? What about the crimes he committed? What about the fact that he was in circles of Islamist radicalizers?”
In private, members of parliament from Merkel’s CDU called Monday’s atrocity a turning point.
The party is divided on how to react: Should the CDU stick to the line defended by Merkel, who still enjoys high popularity among Germans after she rejected what she considers populist responses such as implementing an upper limit to the number of refugees? Or should they imitate the hardline rhetoric of the AfD to avoid losing votes to the far right?
“It would be wrong to claim that the refugee crisis and the developments, particularly during the year 2015, have nothing to do with [Monday’s] deed,” said Stephan Meyer of Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU), which together with the CDU forms the conservative bloc in the Bundestag.
In concrete terms, he demanded an extension of the maximum time that authorities can hold asylum seekers pending deportation from 4 days to 14, as well as calling for legal provision to imprison people who have been denied asylum, and who have been deemed a threat to public safety.
Merkel’s government — a “grand coalition” with the Social Democrats (SPD) as junior partners — has made some concessions to the conservatives on the rules for asylum seekers in a bid to address growing unease among ordinary Germans about the arrival of hundreds of thousands of refugees. In the weeks after the decision to let people in, the government began toughening its tone with asylum seekers who don’t respect the rules.
Last August, following four separate violent attacks last summer — three carried out by asylum seekers and two linked to Islamist terrorism — Thomas de Maizière announced plans to speed up the deportation of foreign criminals and boosted the police’s staffing, equipment and surveillance powers.
As chance would have it, her government approved legislation on Wednesday to expand video surveillance in public and commercial spaces — a decision taken long before Monday’s attacks, as part of the response to the violent incidents in the summer. Some conservatives had complained that many such measures had been held up by the opposition in the Bundesrat, parliament’s upper house.
Free of prejudice
The same people are now likely to push for more, testing the boundaries of Germany’s caution about state surveillance and defense of privacy that are deeply rooted in its experience of authoritarian rule in the 20th century, under the Nazis and East German communists.
One red line is the so-called Trennungsgebot (law of separation), which requires police forces and intelligence agencies to act independently from each other, in order to avoid any risk of a repetition of the rule by fear under Adolf Hitler’s security apparatus between 1933 and 1945.
“All our laws have to do with the fact that we had to come to terms with a history after World War Two,” Saarland’s Kurt Bouillon told the Rheinische Post. “This is also the reason for the separation of police and secret services. This is something we now have to discuss, free of any prejudice.”
Hardliners in the CDU and CSU who make such demands can be sure of the support of Germany’s current security apparatus.
“We urgently need a political shift in thinking,” Ernst Walter, head of Germany’s Federal Police Union, told public broadcaster MDR. “It’s absurd that the new regional government in Berlin [a coalition of the SPD, Greens and Left party] has demonized video surveillance, but at the same time asks citizens to provide them with their videos.”
Walter was referring to the appeal from Berlin police on Tuesday for residents to come forward with any pictures or video footage that might provide clues to who carried out Monday’s attack. One day later, the regional parliament of Berlin said it would not be approving any stepping-up of video surveillance in the city in response to the Christmas market attack.