Security issues take center-stage in the wake of Berlin attack
Police officers next to the truck at Breitscheidplatz, in Berlin | Britta Pedersen/EPA
Last month’s terror attack in Berlin shook the country to the core. The attack was the first of its kind in Germany. Policy-makers are responding with a series of hardline security measures.
Some of the proposed measures include: deportation reforms, traceable ankle tags, more comprehensive negotiation and cooperation with dangerous individual’s country of origin, new grounds for incarceration, an increase in surveillance for individuals who may pose a threat, and cutting development aid to countries that refuse rejected asylum applicants.
The proposed measures were agreed on by both the CDU (Christian Democratic Union), represented by interior minister Thomas de Maizière, and the SPD (Social Democratic Party), represented by justice minister Heiko Maas. The joint press conference comes just days after the CDU and SPD traded jabs over how to proceed in the wake of the Berlin terror attack. In an interview with Bild am Sonntag, de Maizière placed blame on the SPD for the lack of willingness to cooperate with their grand coalition partners, the CDU. SPD general secretary Katarina Barley dismissed de Maizière’s comments, saying they only meant to, “distract from his own failures.”
Sigmar Gabriel, chairman of the SPD and vice chancellor, recently spoke out in favor of tighter security measures. Gabriel is shaping up to be one of Merkel’s biggest challengers for the chancellery in 2017, though he is trailing big in most early polls.
Gabriel is an advocate of increased video surveillance and a ban on Salafist mosques. In a recent interview with Der Spiegel, Gabriel took a strong stance on combatting terrorism and radical Islam in Germany, stating he has, “zero tolerance” for such things.
The Green Party is opposed to the tighter security measures. The party is viewed by many as weak on security, a label that could cost the party votes in next fall’s elections. Party co-chairman Cem Özdemir said the Greens, “….are not participating in the parties’ efforts to outdo one another.” One of the biggest points of contention for the Greens is the idea of increasing survelleincae. Party co-chairman Simone Peter stated that, “Surveillance has no basis in the constitution.” Surveillance is a difficult issue for Germany to grapple with, due to its prominent role in the oppressive regime of the GDR.
Cem Özdemir rightly called out the recent actions of both the SPD and CDU for what they really are, little more than political jockeying. Both parties are trying to stave off voters defecting to the AfD (Alternative for Germany Party), a problem the Greens do not face. Additionally, both parties realize that security is the hot issue of the moment in Germany as well as the entire European Union. The AfD has found success emphasizing the importance of security and linking it to migration issues. Pew Research Center found in a survey on global attitudes taken in the spring of 2016 that 85% of Germans consider ISIS a major threat to the country, while 66% say that cyberattacks from other countries represents a major threat to the country. Pew Research Center Found in another public opinion poll from the fall of 2016 that 61% of Germans believe that refugees will increase the likelihood of terrorism in Germany. The SPD and CDU each have eyes toward fall’s federal elections. Both know that issue of security will play a central role, a deviation from the 2013 federal election in which the economy took center stage following the European debt crisis. In 2016 Germany’s GDP grew by 1.9 percent, and the biggest issues facing the European Union are the refugee crisis, security issues, and Brexit, not failing economies.
The reality of the terror attack in Berlin was that the correct security measures were in fact already in place. Anis Amri was well-known to German authorities. Yet, the proper authorities ignored all the warning signs, allowing Amri to carry out the deadly attack, citing a lack of hard evidence against him. Amri had committed multiple crimes since coming to Europe, served a jail sentence in another European Union country, used up to 14 different identities, and mingled with known radical Islamists. Is all that not evidence of someone who fit the description of a potentially dangerous individual? Increasing surveillance, ankle tags, these things will do little to prevent further attacks. Authorities had all the information they needed, they failed to act.
German authorities thwarted a planned terror attack in October. While police did receive aid from Syrian refugees in apprehending the suspect, they also deserve praise for how they handled the situation. Intelligence services identified the suspect as a potential threat and had him under surveillance for months prior to his apprehension. However, the suspect committed suicide while in custody, a costly human error and institutional failure.
One measure that should help increase security in Germany, that has been proposed, is amending deportation practices. There must be ground for the deportation of rejected asylum seekers deemed a danger to German society from the Maghreb countries (Algeria, Morroco, and Tunisia) to their country of origin. Not only would this aid in preventing large-scale terror attacks, but also events similar to the 2015-2016 New Year’s eve attacks in Cologne.
Germany must change the conversation surrounding their national security debate. The wake of an event like the one in Berlin is not a time to score cheap political points. There is too much blame being thrown around, from all sides of the political spectrum. The blame lies not with a certain political party or politician, rather with isolated failings of law enforcement individuals. Now is the time for Germany to analyze the misdoings of the lead-up to the attack on Breitscheidplatz and learn from the mistakes in order to prevent a similar attack from happening in the future.