Germany’s interior minister on Tuesday outlined plans for a security services overhaul, seeking greater federal powers on domestic intelligence and quicker expulsions of illegal migrants following the Berlin truck attack.
Thomas de Maiziere also wants federal police to be given wider oversight across the country’s 16 states, and for a new national crisis management centre to be set up.
“We don’t have federal jurisdiction to deal with national catastrophes. The jurisdiction for the fight against international terrorism is fragmented,” he wrote in a guest column for the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
“The federal police’s scope of action is restricted to railway stations, airports and border controls,” he wrote, stressing that “it is time” to re-examine Germany’s security set-up.
Policing and domestic intelligence services in Germany are currently decentralised, with responsibilities split between the federal and state governments.
“We need expertise on the ground in the regional states, but also more control exercised by a strong (federal) state,” de Maiziere told public broadcaster ZDF.
The plans for sweeping reform come after a series of embarrassing security failures, with the December 19 attack training a spotlight on the gaps.
After Tunisian suspect Anis Amri allegedly rammed a truck into a crowded Christmas market, killing 12, it swiftly emerged that the asylum seeker had slipped through the net of security services.
– Deportation centres –
Amri, 24, who was days later shot dead by Italian police, had been under surveillance since March, but German police dropped their watch in September thinking he was a small-time drug dealer.
The failed asylum seeker should also have been deported months ago but Tunisia did not provide the necessary paperwork until after the attack.
German anti-terror prosecutors announced Tuesday that authorities had carried out searches in Berlin targeting two acquaintances of Amri.
A 26-year-old Tunisian whom prosecutors called a “suspect” was the subject of one of the raids, however they did not report any possible arrests or seizures.
De Maiziere also said federal detention centres should be set up to hold rejected asylum seekers in the period leading up to their expulsion.
In order to close security gaps, federal police must be given wider powers, the minister said.
“The current remit of the federal police is too limited,” he said.
“We need a set of common rules and better coordination, for instance in checking dangerous individuals.”
The federal government should also take charge of domestic intelligence services, he said, noting that troublemakers do not seek to disrupt only one state but the country as a whole.
But de Maiziere’s suggestions were met with criticism and scepticism, including from within his own CDU party and its Bavarian allies the CSU.
“Simply shifting competencies around would be wrong,” CSU general secretary Andreas Scheuer told news channel NTV.
Several state interior ministers, including Ralf Jaeger of Germany’s most populous state North Rhine-Westphalia, were up in arms over possibly losing control of the domestic intelligence services to the federal government.
Hesse interior minister Peter Beuth, who is from de Maiziere’s party, called the reforms “nonsense” and warned that such instant solutions only served to “undermine confidence in the state”.
The Islamophobic and right-wing populist party AfD meanwhile claimed credit for the planned measures, saying it had been seeking such reforms for months.
– Security failings –
De Maiziere is a close ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is running for a fourth term in a general election expected in September.
Her government came under fire in the wake of the December 19 attack for its liberal border policy, which has allowed in more than one million asylum seekers since 2015, and for allowing Amri to slip through the net despite documented security concerns.
The December attack was only one of several cases last year that exposed security failings in Germany.
In October, police botched an attempt to arrest a Syrian bomb plot suspect. The man was finally caught after a nationwide manhunt, thanks to Syrian asylum seekers who detained him but was later found hanged in his cell.