Amid Terror Worries, Merkel Unmoved on Refugee Policy

By James Carstensen | August 3, 2016 | 8:17pm EDT
A German police officer on patrol (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, File)

Berlin ( – Despite calls for increased security and monitoring of refugees after three refugee-instigated attacks in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel is not shifting from her stance on welcoming refugees, but is examining proposals to deploy the army if necessary to help police secure the country.

“We are at war with the Islamic State [ISIS]; we are not at war with Islam,” she told a press conference late last week, amid strong reactions in response to the wave of attacks.

In the space of a few days, an Afghan asylum seeker stabbed people on a train in Würzburg; a Syrian asylum seeker blew himself up in Ansbach, and another Syrian refugee murdered a woman in Reutlingen. 

The most deadly attack, however, was not evidently related to Islamist ideology: A German citizen went on a shooting spree in Munich on July 22, leaving nine people dead and wounding over 30.

At the height of the refugee crisis last year, Merkel coined the motivational slogan, wir schaffen das (“we can do it”), which she repeated at the press conference.

“We can still do this,” she said. “We can manage this historic challenge.”

But as Merkel’s ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) prepares for next year’s general election, support for her refugee policy has been dwindling.

Across supporters of all parties, 46 percent of people want Merkel to continue as chancellor, according to a survey by research institute Forsa.

Internet pollster YouGov surveyed 1,017 Germans in late July on how they felt about Merkel’s “we can do it” motto. It reported an overall negative response of 66 percent, with 18 percent saying they “slightly disagree” and 48 percent saying they did “not agree at all.” Only eight percent were in total agreement; the lowest such result since a survey in August 2015.

On Saturday, some 1,300 demonstrators took to the streets in Berlin, waving banners calling on Merkel to go. Around 1,000 people held a counter demonstration in solidarity with refugees.

The disputes over the government’s refugee policies have spilled over into the political arena too. At the forefront is a conflict between Merkel and Bavarian prime minister Horst Seehofer.

Although he leads a sister party to Merkel’s CDU, Seehofer is openly at odds with her immigration policy, viewing the large number of immigrants as a security threat.

“The limitation of immigration is a prerequisite for security in the country,” he said at the end of a cabinet meeting last week.

Seehofer rebuffed Merkel’s reaffirmation of her “we can do it” slogan, saying that “the best of intentions is not the same as taking action.”

At a press conference Tuesday, Seehofer and the Bavarian interior minister, Joachim Herrmann, presented a list of proposals and demands following the attacks in southern Germany.

They include bolstering border controls, faster deportations, better surveillance in refugee facilities – and, if necessary, the deployment of the military inside the country.

The two also announced plans to add 2,000 officers to the state police force over the next few years.

Meanwhile police departments across several states are planning their first joint exercises with the Defense Ministry. During her press conference Merkel said it was “time to train for large-scale terrorist attacks, which we can do according to constitutional law that would allow the military to be brought in under the relevant police leadership.”

Deploying the military in a domestic context has been restricted since the end of World War II, although Article 35 of the German constitution gives police the power to call for military assistance in an emergency.

The German government can also use that power, but only in the event of a “particularly difficult” situation, such as large scale terrorist attacks.

Still, the suggestion of any sort of military deployment inside the country is contentious.

The Social Democratic Party’s defense spokesman, Rainer Arnold, rejected the idea, voicing concern that Merkel's conservatives would lower the threshold necessary for activating the military inside Germany.

The left-wing Die Linke party also challenged the plans.

“The line set out in the constitution dividing police and military responsibilities should not be further blurred,” said its spokeswoman for domestic security policy, Ulla Jelpke.

The interior minister of Lower Saxony state, Boris Pistorius, said calls for increased security were an overreaction.

“Ansbach, Würzburg and Munich were each very awful acts on their own, but should clearly be distinguished,” he told Die Welt.

“We can never create 100-percent safety, with no law in the world,” Pistorius added.

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