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At a press conference on Thursday Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière outlined plans to beef up federal security forces, make the promotion of terrorism a crime and strip German citizenship from dual nationals who fight for foreign militias.
After terrorist attacks on German soil this year, two of them by migrants, the minister has been under intense pressure from both the political right, who want fewer Muslim migrants, and the left, who’ve been calling for a stronger police presence.
“A lot of people … are worried about further attacks. That is understandable,” De Maizière told reporters. “No one can guarantee absolute security, but we must do what is possible.”
Revoking German citizenship would go some way towards dealing with the estimated 820 Germans fighting in Syria and Iraq who may pose a threat on their return to Germany.
It’s nonetheless considered a controversial proposal with Green lawmaker Volker Beck among those condemning it as “desperate activism”.
Social Democrats (SPD) chief Sigmar Gabriel said his party — the government’s junior coalition partner — are not open to just “any populist quick fix”, but that they are “ready for discussions on anything that can contribute to reinforcing security”.
And the security package has yet to be approved by the country’s right-left coalition and German parliament.
Beyond the issue of homegrown terrorism, the minister is proposing to make it easier to deport terror suspects and detain foreigners who have committed crimes or are a public security risk.
A tightening of German and European Union weapons laws is also on the cards.
De Maizière said he was limiting himself to policies that could be implemented quickly, and that he considered “politically reasonable”.
Raffaello Pantucci, Director of International Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), told FRANCE 24 that he supported the removal of citizenship as a practical measure.
“If a person is not conducive to being a valuable participant of society then it’s logical to take these people out of the stream. But it has to be used judiciously.”
Scoping social media
The policy proposals include a new unit to combat cybercrime and terrorism, with the government also considering screening the public social media profiles of people being admitted into the country under resettlement programmes.
Security experts and authorities are well aware that Facebook and other social media are used by extremists to recruit jihadists and spread propaganda.
The suicide bomber at Ansbach music festival where 15 people were killed in July had six Facebook accounts in which he used one to distribute Islamist propaganda under an assumed name, whilst the 17 year old Afghan who attacked train passengers with an axe had two Facebook accounts.
These measures may prove difficult to implement, however, as in the past German politicians have accused organisations like Facebook of refusing to cooperate with requests for data sharing.
Pantucci told FRANCE 24 that he agrees social media organisations need to take more responsibility.
“It’s amusing that these companies become agitated over requests made for data when they use data themselves for targeted advertising,” he said.
“But in one sense they’re right because the government shouldn’t have unfettered access to just any information.”
Bring in the army
On the ground, De Maizière’s plan includes spending on security to be raised by two billion euros ($2.2 billion) by 2020, with a special division set up within federal police forces to better coordinate security efforts.
This is in addition to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s controversial call during her summer press conference for the military to participate in joint anti-terror exercises with the police.
But putting soldiers on the streets has triggered alarm in a country still haunted by its Nazi past.
A poll by the Die Zeit weekly found that 66 percent of the population did not think that deploying the army in Germany was a good idea.
Even the police voiced disapproval with the chairman of the police union GdP, Oliver Malchow, saying that “the armed forces are completely unable to offer the help that we need.”
“We need investigators, we need policemen who are trained constitutionally,” he said.
A ban on full face veils worn by Muslim women was widely speculated to be part of the minister’s security package, but he shut down speculation saying it was “constitutionally problematic”.
De Maizière will meet his counterparts regarding the measures on August 18.