Bavarian state premier Horst Seehofer hit back at government plans to centralize Germany’s intelligence apparatus in the wake of the Berlin terrorist attack, saying his rich and independent-minded region will never give up its own security agency.
“I can only tell you: There will be no dissolution of the Bavarian agency for the protection of the constitution,” Seehofer said at a conference on security policy organized by his Christian Social Union (CSU), a coalition partner of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, as cited by Deutsche Welle.
Seehofer, a critic of Chancellor Merkel’s refugee policy, was responding to proposals previously outlined by Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere in an article for Frankfurter Allgemeine. Under the plan, a centralized domestic intelligence agency would be in charge of dealing with terrorist threats and protecting the constitutional order.
The plan comes after a terrorist attack in Berlin, in which a Tunisian national – known by police for months – rammed a large truck into a crowd at a Christmas market, killing 12. The attack exposed serious problems in the way German intelligence agencies deal with terrorist suspects, and also sparked a barrage of criticism towards the government’s ‘open-door’ refugee policy.
De Maiziere’s proposal, which he hopes will help create “a stronger state in difficult times,” would also require the dissolution of the regional intelligence agencies of 16 German states, which currently operate with a certain degree of independence from Berlin.
Merkel publicly backed the plan on Wednesday, but Andreas Scheuer, secretary general of Seehofer’s CSU, said de Maiziere’s proposals will not secure enough support from the federal states.
Lorenz Caffier, interior minister of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, described the proposal “a stupid thing,” adding: “Some of de Maiziere’s ideas on domestic security are completely immature,” according to Frankfurter Allgemeine.
Thomas Blenke, a CDU security speaker from Baden-Wuerttemberg, told the newspaper that centralization will not help tackle the terrorist threat more efficiently, while Peter Beuth, interior minister of the state of Hessen, called the plan “absurd.” Proposals like these, he said, “undermine citizens’ trust in the state, and also question the entire federal security architecture.”
Meanwhile, Sigmar Gabriel, German vice chancellor and a political heavyweight of the Social Democrats, said that instead of speaking of “grand restructuring plans,” the government should come out with a clear plan to minimize the terrorist threat.
“Otherwise, I have serious concerns that, once restructuring is launched, the security agencies will exclusively focus on it for the next couple of years instead of hunting down criminals and terrorists,” he said.
Some experts believe that de Maiziere’s initiative would allow Merkel to gain popular support at the expense of Seehofer’s CSU, by positioning herself as tough on terror while the Bavarian premier is reduced to defending regional rights.
The current regional intelligence architecture has existed for several decades. It was established after the collapse of the totalitarian Nazi state with its notoriously repressive institutions.
Otto Schilly, Germany’s previous interior minister, was forced to resign after a failed attempt to centralize domestic intelligence following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001.