Berlin (CNSNews.com) - The German government has shifted away from its historical sensitivity over personal privacy to mull the introduction of broader monitoring and surveillance, as Chancellor Angela Merkel prepares for the election campaign ahead and refrains from changing course on her liberal refugee policy.
An Ipsos survey published this week showed that support for her policy has dropped, with only 15 per cent of respondents believing integration could work, down from 21 percent a year ago.
“The overwhelming majority is disillusioned – across all social strata,” the German news agency dpa quoted researcher Horst W. Opaschowski as saying.
A similar study commissioned by the Hamburg BAT Foundation found only 16 per cent to believe that integration could improve in 2017.
After facing scrutiny over failing to prevent the deadly truck attack in Berlin which killed 12 people, authorities came under further criticism when it emerged that the suspected perpetrator, 24-year old Tunisian Anis Amri, was a rejected asylum seeker who was already well-known to security services.
The fact that Amri was able to escape, making it to Italy before being shot by dead by police there further stoked the security debate.
The approach of New Year’s Eve has also brought a renewed focus on the need for increased surveillance and security. Last year’s celebrations were marred by mass sexual assaults and robberies in several cities, most reportedly caused by perpetrators with migrant backgrounds.
A new measure, entitled “Security for our freedom,” has been introduced by the Christian Social Union (CSU) – the sister party to Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) – and is due for discussion in January.
It proposes lengthened detention periods for those awaiting deportation, increased CCTV, closer monitoring of services such as WhatsApp and Skype, and police power to arrest anyone regarded as a potential “public danger.”
“Anybody who puts general security at risk must not be allowed to be at large,” Ralf Stegner, a deputy leader of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) – also a member of Merkel’s ruling coalition – told the Die Welt daily.
The government has so far only agreed on a draft bill for increasing CCTV coverage, although the issue is controversial: Germans are historically sensitive about surveillance, due to the history of Nazism. However, the wave of terror attacks has softened the attitude of many towards CCTV.
A YouGov poll published on Sunday found that 60 percent of Germans were in favor of more video surveillance in public spaces. Seventy-three percent of respondents also backed the idea of having larger police forces.
New Year’s Eve could be the next major test for Germany’s security efforts – and Merkel’s migrant/refugee policy. After last year’s assaults, the government has heightened local security, increasing CCTV surveillance and deploying 1,200 police officers.
The government’s shifting approach to security is also partly a step to moderate the rise of the far right Alternative for Deutschland (AfD), which, partly as a result of public concerns over terrorism and last New Year’s Eve incidents has grown and now holds seats in 10 of Germany’s 16 states.
It is the first populist party expected to clear the five percent threshold required to secure seats in the national Bundestag.
Fractures have emerged within Merkel’s coalition, with the CSU increasingly at odds with her migrant/refugee policy, calling for more restrictive controls on newcomers.
CSU party leader Horst Seehofer, who was quick to link the Berlin attack to immigration policy, has differed with Merkel over the need for a “ceiling” on the number of refugees admitted.
At her CDU party conference in early December, Merkel, who has been Chancellor for 11 years, confirmed she will run for a fourth term, but also acknowledged the election would be harder than any previous one she has faced.
However, Prof. Volker Perthes, director of the German Institute for International Policy and Security, sees the emerging populist trend as an opportunity for Germany.
In his view, the victory of President-elect Donald Trump showed that the U.S. is now unpredictable, creating a space for Germany to step in as a more reliable decision maker on the global stage.
“We have a chance to establish a position as a European and international actor – a chance that we would not have been given five years ago,” he argued.
Perthes, who also works as an advisor to the government, suggested that addressing issues such as increasing income inequality in industrialized countries and dealing with the spread of “fake news” should be priorities for Germany.
Merkel’s coalition of the CDU, CSU and SPD remains the clear frontrunners in the election campaign, while the AfD is currently polling at about 13 per cent.