Germany Is Expected To Centralize Its COVID-19 Response. Some Fear It May Be Too Late

Uncomfortable parallels with Canada? That being said, unclear whether stronger federal role would have avoided some of the provincial mistakes and/or denial about the risks of a third wave:

This week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is making good on a veiled threat she issued two weeks ago to centralize pandemic management. Amid growing calls for Merkel to take control of the situation and bypass the country’s 16 state leaders, Germany’s parliament is expected to pass a measure this month that will allow her finally to take charge of the country’s COVID-19 response.

As the third wave of infection rages, some worry it may already be too late. Hospitals in Germany warn they’re about to run out of intensive care beds, even as state leaders continue to relax coronavirus restrictions.

Germany, with a population of 83 million, has lost nearly 79,000 lives to the pandemic. With the more contagious B.1.1.7 variant now dominant, the national seven-day incidence rate has risen in recent weeks from below 100 to 136.4 cases per 100,000 people. The country’s total number of infections has surpassed 3 million.

A year ago, Germany was weathering the pandemic relatively well and Merkel’s coronavirus response — attributed to her scientific understanding of the virus and a robust test, track and trace system — was praised far and wide. But exponential growth has long since overwhelmed virus trackers, and the slow start to vaccine rollout, combined with an increasingly confusing patchwork of regional lockdown regulations, has left the country in epidemiological disarray and sent Merkel’s party plummeting in the polls, losing 10 points in recent weeks.

“It’s been a bit of a rude awakening for us Germans to realize that we’re not the masters of organization,” says Melanie Amann, who heads the Berlin bureau of Der Spiegel.

While the pandemic has debunked the myth about German efficiency, the same cannot be said of another cliché — the nation’s love of red tape.

“Our ability to create complex systems and bureaucracy have pretty much stopped us from effectively fighting the pandemic,” Amann says. Nonfunctioning websites, unstaffed hotlines, excessive paperwork and authorizations are among the issues she cites — amid regulations that differ from state to state.

Severin Opel, a 23-year-old Berlin resident, had to wait several days to get an appointment for a recent rapid coronavirus test.

“Paperwork is getting in the way of this pandemic,” he laments. “There’s so much focus on minutiae and documenting every step to the nth degree, guidelines end up contradicting each other and nothing makes sense.”

Merkel is known for her careful, measured responses to crises, but even she admits there’s sometimes too much devil in the details.

Speaking in a rare television interview last month, Merkel conceded: “Perhaps we Germans are overly perfectionist sometimes. We always want to do everything right because whoever makes a mistake gets it in the neck publicly.” But “in a pandemic,” she went on to say, “there needs to be more flexibility. We Germans need to learn to let go.”

Janosch Dahmen, a front-line doctor and health spokesperson for the Green Party — which is close to rivaling Merkel’s conservatives in the polls — believes the government’s cautious approach is actually reckless.

“A strategy or intervention without risks doesn’t exist,” Dahmen says. “Waiting for the perfect, flawless game plan is a recipe for failure, especially in the face of this virus, which is mutating insanely fast.”

And yet Merkel’s crisis management style is only one factor. Germany’s system of federalism means she has little say in the country’s vaccination and lockdown strategies, of which there are no fewer than 16 — one for each German state.

Amann argues, though, it’s high time that Merkel — who leaves office this fall — used her considerable political capital to take charge, rather than simply advising and negotiating pandemic guidelines with the 16 state premiers.

“Because her term is ending, she theoretically has all the freedom and all the independence she wants to take bold steps in the corona management,” Amann says. “Nobody could run her out of office. And she’s not using this. She’s just working as if she were at the beginning of her first term.”

State leaders agreed in March on an “emergency brake” strategy to impose more rigorous measures as infections rose, but the agreement was only in principle, and few states have implemented the measures strictly.

After weeks of frustration, political commentators have observed, Merkel looks the way many Germans feel — namely mütend, a pandemic-era mashup that means both tired (müde) and angry (wütend).

And while there’s concern that parliament might take too long to pass a bill allowing Merkel to streamline and centralize pandemic crisis management, the chancellor and most of the state premiers agree the current situation is untenable.

Source: Germany Is Expected To Centralize Its COVID-19 Response. Some Fear It May Be Too Late

Turkish Germans are finally finding their voice

Interesting overview and history (long read):

IScores of young Turkish men in sober suits move towards the train that will take them to Germany, while their wives and mothers cry on the platform. A few days earlier, these hopefuls had been bare-chested as their teeth and bodies were checked by German doctors to ensure they were strong enough for the physical work awaiting them. Those that pass the test feel immense pride: “I am Yılmaz Atalay from Çorum!” announces one, gazing wide-eyed into the camera in footage originally shot by Turkish state television.

Atalay was among the first Gastarbeiter, or guest workers, to leave a poor part of Turkey for West Germany’s booming post-war economy and a better life. The deal signed in 1961 by Ankara and Bonn sparked an enormous migration between two countries that shared little in terms of culture, religion or prosperity. It changed not only the workers’ lives, but also the nature of their new country. By the end of the first year, 5,623 Turkish workers lived in Germany. When the scheme officially ended, in 1973, there were 900,000. Now the Turkish-German community, comprising the original migrants and their descendants (about half of whom are German citizens) numbers nearly three million, constituting the biggest minority group in the country.

Most of those original migrants spent their working lives in low-paid, backbreaking jobs on assembly lines and building sites, as well as in mines. Their descendants include global successes, such as Game of Thrones actress Sibel Kekilli and World Cup-winning footballer Mesut Özil as well as—most recently—the Covid-19 vaccine creators, the married couple Uğur Şahin (whose parents were doctors) and Özlem Türeci of BioNTech.

But while such figures conjure up an immigrant rags-to-riches story, the truth for most is less romantic. As the 60th anniversary of the Turkish Gastarbeiter programme approaches, the younger generation is struggling to find its proper place. In 2021, Turkish Germans are still among the least integrated, least educated in the country. At the same time, the effects of German xenophobia remain pervasive. Many young Turkish Germans are angry that even after three generations, they don’t appear to fully belong.

Germany: New law eases citizenship for descendants of Nazi victims

Needed change:

The German government on Wednesday agreed to a draft law to grant citizenship to more descendants of Nazi victims.

If enacted, the law should fully close a loophole that led to many victims’ descendants being denied German citizenship, despite a long-standing policy of allowing descendants of persecuted Jews to reclaim citizenship.

Some were denied citizenship because their ancestors fled Germany and changed citizenship before Nazi Germany officially revoked their German citizenship. Others were denied because they were born before April 1, 1953, to a non-German father and a German mother in a gender-discriminating rule.

In 1941, the Nazi regime stripped citizenship from any German Jews living outside its borders, rendering Jewish refugees stateless and stranded. Jews inside the country were stripped of their rights and rendered state subjects.

Before this, many Jews and other victims of Nazi rule had their citizenship stripped of them individually by decree for political or racial reasons.

Enshrining a new rule

The government said the new law was largely symbolic but would set into law a change in rules adopted in 2019.

“This is not just about putting things right, it is about apologizing in profound shame,” said Interior Minister Horst Seehofer.

“It is a huge fortune for our country if people want to become German, despite the fact that we took everything from their ancestors,” he said in a statement.

Interior Ministry spokesman Steve Alter said formalizing the 2019 rule change was a way of strengthening the legal position of beneficiaries and giving them “the value they deserved.”

‘Injustice cannot be undone’

The president of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, Josef Schuster, said: “During the Nazi era, countless German Jews were forced to flee or were expatriated. In addition, Jews were fundamentally excluded from acquiring German citizenship due to racist legislation. This injustice cannot be undone. But it is a gesture of decency if they and their descendants are given legal opportunities to regain German citizenship.”

His organization had campaigned for the law, saying that the previous decrees had been inadequate.

The loopholes were thrust into the spotlight recently, as many Britons lodged citizenship applications due to Brexit. Many of those based their claim on the Nazi persecution of their ancestors. Numbers rose from 43 such applications in 2015 to 1,506 in 2018, according to ministry figures.

Austria changed its rules in 2019, too, allowing the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those who fled the Nazis to be renaturalized. It previously only allowed Holocaust survivors themselves to obtain Austrian citizenship.

Source: Germany: New law eases citizenship for descendants of Nazi victims

Germany Expected To Put Right-Wing AfD Under Surveillance For Violating Constitution

Of note (perhaps the USA could consider a similar initiative for those that disputed the election results in Congress and the Senate):

Germany’s Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, is constantly on the lookout for potential threats to Germany’s democratic constitutional system, and it has wide-ranging powers when it finds them.

“This agency has the power — and not only to do surveillance on fringe groups, domestic terrorist threats, but also to keep an eye on any political institution, like a political party,” said Melanie Amann of the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel and the author of a book about the Alternative for Germany, or AfD.

“Like if their program becomes more radical or if they notice that a political party, maybe that’s even sitting in the parliament, goes into a direction that might be harmful to our political system.”

The agency has wrapped up a two-year investigation into the Alternative for Germany, the country’s largest right-wing opposition party, and is expected to announce soon that it will place the entire party under surveillance for posing a threat to Germany’s political system and violating the constitution. The unprecedented move would mean that all AfD lawmakers, including several dozen in Germany’s parliament, would be put under state surveillance.

The driving force behind the creation of the Verfassungsschutz agency and its surveillance powers was the American-led Allied forces, who, after World War II, helped write a new German Constitution with an eye toward preventing the return of Nazi ideology. That’s why the first article of the constitution guarantees the right to human dignity — an article that the agency determined a far-right branch of the AfD violated. It placed that group, known as der Flügel (“The Wing”), under surveillance nearly a year ago.

Amann said the agency has identified instances of AfD politicians denigrating Muslim migrants to Germany. “They were all treated as potential terrorists,” she said. “They were dehumanized in the speeches. They were compared to animals. The [agency] report made it quite clear that these people had crossed a line.”

Some AfD politicians have also trivialized Germany’s Nazi past. Speaking at an AfD event in 2017, the leader of the Flügel wing, Bjorn Höcke, called the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin a “monument of shame.” A year later, AfD parliamentary leader Alexander Gauland likened Germany’s Nazi era to “a speck of bird s*** in more than 1,000 years of successful German history.”

“If you look at how the AfD has been behaving for some time now, it’s clear it’s acting against our democracy and our constitution,” said Social Democrat parliamentarian Thomas Hitschler, a member of the parliamentary committee that reviews Germany’s intelligence agencies. He said the Verfassungsschutz agency has spent two years gathering evidence to inform the decision that is expected to put the entire AfD under watch.

But AfD politician Georg Pazderski claims the process is political. The agency is run by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government, staffed with members of her own conservative Christian Democratic Union party. Pazderski said the CDU is worried about how fast the AfD has become a presence in Germany’s parliament; the party now has 88 members of 709 in the Bundestag, more than 12% representation.

“If you have an opposition party which is very successful within a very short time, we become a danger for the ruling parties,” Pazderski said, “especially for the conservative CDU. And this is a reason why they are trying to stigmatize us and to really put us in the Nazi corner and also to spread strong rumors.”

Hitschler insists the process is not political and the agency’s findings must withstand tough legal scrutiny.

“Its decision must be so watertight legally that it will stand up in the courts,” he said. “The AfD has legal recourse to contest the decision, and the agency isn’t about to lose face in court with a poor case.”

The AfD is already preparing for the decision. This week, the party published a position paper that represents a U-turn in how it sees immigrants, insisting that it is a party for all Germans, even naturalized citizens.

AfD politician Jens Maier, already under surveillance for being part of the Flügel, told NPR by email that last year’s decision to put his section of the party under surveillance has had real consequences.

“A lot of members fear for their civil reputation or even their jobs, especially if they are employed in public service,” he wrote. “This is clearly an unfair method to lower the election results of the AfD.” Germany’s federal elections are scheduled for September.

Der Spiegel’s Amann says tightened surveillance on the AfD will affect civil servants such as police officers and military personnel, who may cancel their membership out of fear of losing their jobs.

While the Verfassungsschutz agency is able to tap phones and use informants to gather information on whomever it monitors, Maier said he hasn’t noticed the surveillance. But he said it has changed the way he and his associates communicate.

“We don’t talk about confidential topics on the phone or online anymore and people from the outside contacting us do so with care now, knowing that somebody is possibly listening,” he wrote.

When Germany announces the AfD is under surveillance, Pazderski said it can expect an immediate lawsuit challenging the decision. And that, he said, may take years to resolve.

Source: Germany Expected To Put Right-Wing AfD Under Surveillance For Violating Constitution

Immigration and integration: Germany debates terminology

Important and significant debate (moving towards the Canadian definition of integration):

For 15 years now, the term used by German statisticians and politicians alike to denote foreigners and their descendants has been “people with a migration background.”

That was the label given to people who weren’t born into German citizenship. And to people whose mothers or fathers were not born German citizens. Today, that applies to a quarter of the population.

After two years of discussing how Germany could better acknowledge its status as a society of immigration, a specialist commission of 24 politicians and academics appointed by the government has submitted its report to Chancellor Angela Merkel. One of its recommendations is to stop using the terms “migration background” or “immigrant background.”

‘Simply be Germans’

People should use the term “immigrants and their descendants,” commission chair Derya Caglar said. “In my case, this would mean that I am no longer the migrant, but rather the daughter or descendant of migrants.”

Caglar, a member of Berlin’s city-state legislature for the Social Democrats (SPD), said her parents had immigrated from Turkey but she was born here. “And my children, who are currently defined as having a migration background, would simply be Germans,” she said.

The German government’s commissioner for integration, Annette Widmann-Mauz, of the Christian Democrats (CDU), is in favor of the change. The term “migration background” encompasses so many groups now that it has lost much of its meaning, Widmann-Mauz said.

“Many of the 21 million people to which the term is applied do not feel appropriately described by it,” she said. Widmann-Mauz said nearly one-third of people to whom the term “migration background” is applied were born in Germany. The term, she said, gives the impression “that they would never belong here 100%, that immigration was their defining characteristic.”

Merkel: ‘Opulent opus’

Over 240 pages, the report articulates 14 core messages. Topics include social housing, greater efforts to combat racism and hate crimes, and equal education and health opportunities. In Germany, according to the report, integration is a “permanent task affecting everybody.”

Caglar said some of the recommendations would “require patience and a long-term strategy.” Others, she said, “don’t require much adjustment at all.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her gratitude for the “opulent opus”, saying it provided politicians with “much expertise.”

“As a result of the wave of immigration between 2013 and 2015-16, we have a mountain of tasks in front of us, requiring a great deal of integration work,” Merkel said. “This challenge, it must be said, will not get easier in the near future, because we are experiencing great economic tensions as a result of the pandemic.”

Merkel said recent immigrants were often among the first to feel the effects of a country’s economic difficulties. “Therefore,” she said, “we will have to pay great attention to the issue of integration and immigration in the coming years so that our efforts were not in vain.”

Coronavirus as amplifier

Labor Minister Hubertus Heil, of the SPD, said the pandemic had shown how dependent Germany is on immigration. “The coronavirus crisis acted as a magnifying glass,” he said. “In many areas, we have a shortage of specialist workers.” To fix this, he said, Germany would have to harness its domestic potential for training specialists. “But, at the same time, we also need specialists from elsewhere in Europe and so-called third countries,” he said. “We see this not just in hospitals and care professions, but also on building sites and in the trades.”

That German is a country of immigration has become the consensus among politicians, business leaders and across society.

The only party to question this in the Bundestag is the Alternative for Germany (AfD), which is also the biggest opposition grouping. It wants to apply strict limits to immigration. Within the commission, not everyone could agree on issues of migration and integration. And the final report also reflects opposing views in the section “dissenting opinion.” This also applies to the new term “immigrants and their descendants.” Like the ethnic minorities it is designed to describe, the expression “migration background,” is likely to stick around.

Source: Immigration and integration: Germany debates terminology

Germany: Anti-Semitism commissioner calls for removal of Nazi law leftovers

Of note:

Germany’s anti-Semitism commissioner called for the removal of 29 Nazi-era paragraphs that remain in the country’s laws in comments published on Sunday.

Felix Klein, appointed two years ago by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet, said the worst example was a 1938 Nazi remnant in Germany’s present-day law on changing a person’s name.

Jews in Nazi Germany were required under a 1939 regulation stemming from that law to insert a “typical” Jewish forename, Israel for men, and Sara for women, if their first name was not on a “typical” list maintained by the-then Interior Ministry.

Klein, who last year, with Social Democrat Eva Högl and Christian Democrat Thorsten Frei, demanded removal of such wording used to persecute Jews, told the magazine Der Spiegel parliament had already been sent a reformulations catalog.

“The name change law is the most blatant of all,” said Klein, adding that the latest version — dated 2008 and still accessible on the Justice Ministry website — still mentioned the “German Reich” and the “Reich Minister of the Interior,” terminology proscribed by the defeated Hitler regime.

In last year’s appeal, Klein, Högl and Frei wrote that the occupying Allied Control Council had sought to annul that law, but it lingered under Article 125 of Germany’s postwar constitution or Basic Law.

“Anyone who wants to change their first or last name in Germany today is [still] confronted with this anti-Semitic-motivated law from 1938,” they said.

Instead, an amendment should state the “Federal Republic of Germany” and the “Federal Minister of the Interior,” Klein told Spiegel in his latest appeal.

Naturopathy law also tainted

As further lingering examples, Klein cited Nazi-era paragraphs riddling Germany’s current law on naturopathic healing practitioners, its gambling casino ordinance, and a mutual Greek-German law on civil legal assistance.

Klein said the aim of the omnibus legislation before the Bundestag was to review and remove all such leftover Nazi-era passages.

In their 2020 joint appeal, Klein, Hogl and Frei said a further aim was to avoid wording that defined Germany’s postwar federal interior ministers as “successors” of the Nazi-era Reich interior minister and convicted war criminal Wilhelm Frick.

It was Frick, convicted at the Allied Nuremberg trials and executed in 1946, who from 1930 in the-then Thuringia state sought German nationality for the Austrian-born, but stateless, Adolf Hitler, regarded by Prussia as an undesirable alien.

Hitler finally got German nationality in 1932, via the-then-adjacent state of Braunschweig, becoming a year later chancellor and seizing power.

Source: Germany: Anti-Semitism commissioner calls for removal of Nazi law leftovers

Germany Moves Toward Requiring Women On Large Companies’ Executive Boards

Of note to Canadian regulators, broadening to visible minorities and Indigenous peoples:

Germany has taken a step toward requiring what has not happened voluntarily: putting women on the management boards of the country’s largest companies.

On Wednesday, Germany’s cabinet approved a draft law that would require stock exchange-listed companies with executive boards of more than three members to have at least one woman and one man on those boards.

The rule would affect about 70 companies – of which some 30 currently have no women at all on their management boards, the Justice Ministry said. These companies generally have more than 2,000 employees.

The draft law will now go to the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament, for a vote.

The legislation also contains a provision intended to improve the effectiveness of a 2015 law that requires leading companies’ supervisory boards — which are generally chosen by shareholders and don’t have executive powers — to have at least 30% of their positions occupied by women.

The new law would extend the 30% requirement to companies in which the federal government is the majority shareholder. That includes Deutsche Bahn, the German railway company. In addition, executive boards – responsible for managing the company – that have more than two members will be required to have at least one woman. These measures would affect about 90 companies.

Federal Minister for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth Franziska Giffeycalled the law a “milestone” that would ensure there will no longer be women-free boardrooms in these large companies. The law would make Germany better prepared for the future, she said, and more able to capitalize on its potential.

“We have seen for years, not many changes are made voluntarily, and progress is very slow,” Giffey said in a statement.

An October 2020 report by the AllBright Foundation, which advocates for boardroom diversity, found that Germany lags the U.S., France, the U.K., Poland and Sweden in the proportion of women on executive boards at leading companies.

The study found that in the U.S., women comprise 28.6% of the executive boards of the 30 largest publicly traded companies. In Germany, that figure is just 12.8%. And only four of Germany’s largest 30 listed companies had more than one woman on their executive boards.

Janina Kugel, a former Siemens executive who is now an equality advocate, told Deutsche Welle the new quota would be an important signal.

“The perception of Germany is that, because we’ve had a female chancellor for the last 15 years, Germany is very progressive in that matter, but actually it is not,” she said.

The U.S. has also begun to confront the issue of gender disparity in boardrooms.

In 2018, California became the first U.S. state to require companies based there to have women on their boards of directors.

And the U.S. stock exchange Nasdaq announced diversity requirements last month. Under the rule submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission, Nasdaq would require companies traded on its exchange to appoint at least one woman and at least one member of an ethnic or racial minority or LGBTQ+ person to their boards of directors.

Source: Germany Moves Toward Requiring Women On Large Companies’ Executive Boards

ICYMI: New Year’s Eve in Cologne: 5 years after the mass assaults

Useful looking back and what has changed:

As a social worker, Franco Clemens has experienced a lot. But nothing prepared him for what happened on New Year’s Eve five years ago. It happened “in multicultural Cologne, of all places, a melting pot of integration,” he reflects. The night began seemingly harmlessly.

Just as in years past, a crowd assembled in the square in front of the central railway station, right next to the city’s landmark gothic cathedral. Nothing unusual for the city in the state of North-Rhine Westphalia. But this time, a throng of about a thousand young men was forming in the crowd. Most of them were from the North African-Arabic region.

The atmosphere was uninhibited, aggressive. Fireworks were pointed at people, passers-by harassed, cellphones and wallets were stolen. The police were surprised and overwhelmed; there were too few officers on duty.

The situation soon escalated completely. It came to especially “abominable” scenes as German Chancellor Angela Merkel would later describe it. Packs of men were hunting down women, cornering many of them. There were sexual assaults, rapes.

Merkel’s ‘welcoming culture’ under pressure

In the following days, a total of 1210 criminal complaints were made, 511 of them involving sexual assaults. Rape or attempted rape accounted for 28 complaints. Similar scenes occurred in other German cities including Hamburg, Frankfurt am Main and Hanover, albeit not on the same scale.

Franco Clemens, who at the time headed a refugee accommodation center in Cologne, is appalled at what was done to the women. For him and his staff, the violence came as a “shock, which felt like the ground was pulled out from under our feet.” Clemens sees the welcoming culture for refugees, which had been promoted by Merkel, as being called into question.

The Cologne New Year’s Eve attacks led “to a paradigm shift in society,” concluded Clemens in an online discussion on the topic led by Berlin-based organization the Migration Media Service (Mediendienst Integration.)

“The welcoming culture was contradicted, in that many people who had previously broadly supported it were suddenly fearful,” the street worker said. With that, a lot of support was lost. “Right up to the refugee homes, where many people had still been helping us to advance social work and integration.”

Instrumentalized by the Trump campaign

Because what happened in Cologne brought fundamental sociopolitical issues to the fore, it triggered a worldwide media response.

During his US presidential election campaign, Donald Trump portrayed the attacks as a cautionary tale from a misguided refugee policy. Trump used them unscrupulously in his anti-immigration polemics.

In Germany itself, the long-running debate about migration policy and how to live together in a pluralistic society flared up. Citizens who until then had no concerns felt a newfound need for security. Sales of alarm pistols, pepper spray, and tear gas soared to record levels.

Among the beneficiaries of these developments was the far-right populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which succeeded in using people’s reservations, fear, and anger to gain votes. Soon it would become the largest opposition party in the Bundestag.

Tightening of asylum and sexual assault laws

As a result of the incident, Germany tightened laws covering the right to asylum and made it easier and quicker to deport foreigners who committed crimes.

Laws governing sexual offenses were also reformed. “Until then, sexual assault was not a criminal offense,” said Behshid Najafi, an educator from agisra, a Cologne-based women’s help service. Because of what happened on New Year’s Eve, that law changed in November 2016.

In addition, the principle of “no means no” was applied from then on. The law was also changed to mean that a sexual act would be considered rape even if the victim did not actively try to defend themselves. And if sexual crimes were committed in a group, then all participants in that group should be liable for prosecution.

There were also consequences for the media. Like the police, they were accused of being too hesitant to report on the foreign citizenship of the suspects. The press council changed its guidelines for naming alleged offenders. Previously, the press code stated that journalists should as a rule refrain from naming a suspected criminal’s country of origin or migration background, regardless of the accuracy of that information. Now, the code states that information can be reported “if there is a justified public interest.”

Racism accusations against police

The Cologne police, meanwhile, assembled a group of specialists in a team called “AG Silvester” to ensure there was no repeat of the incident the following year. On New Year’s Eve 2016-2017, police deployed more officers to the streets. When officials used the word “Nafris“— an abbreviation for North Africans — in a tweet about inspections they were carrying out, they were accused of racial profiling. The police sought to justify themselves by saying that it was undeniable that there was a spate of crimes by people from the North African region. But the vast majority of North African people living in Germany were “of course, not criminals.”

Safety plans were revised, and police training was adapted to meet the demands of the situation. “A lot has happened in the police, if I look at what we do for intercultural competence, anti-discrimination, for stress management and communications training,” the former head of AG Silvester, Klaus Zimmermann said.

But whatever happened to the call from Merkel “to identify the culprits as quickly and comprehensively as possible and punish them, regardless of their origin or background?”

Insufficient evidence due to tumultuous scenes

According to the figures, the “tough” response from authorities is sobering: The Cologne public prosecutor’s office investigated a total of 290 people. Only 37 cases were completed, 32 with convictions. Most of them were for theft or similar offenses. Only two men were convicted and sentenced for sexual assault: A 26-year-old Algerian and a 21-year-old Iraqi each received one-year probation.

However, in chaotic scenes like New Year’s Eve, it’s almost impossible to attribute specific acts to individual perpetrators. “We exhausted all our methods. We tracked phone signals, brought in specialist observers called super-recognizers to analyze video footage in order to detect the offenders,” Zimmermann said.

The changes made by Cologne police have at least ensured largely peaceful New Year’s Eve celebrations near the central station ever since. Things are expected to be even calmer throughout Cologne this year — due to coronavirus restrictions.

Source: New Year’s Eve in Cologne: 5 years after the mass assaults

Germany: She Called Police Over a Neo-Nazi Threat. But the Neo-Nazis Were Inside the Police.

Disturbing:

Traveling for work and far from home, Seda Basay-Yildiz received a chilling fax at her hotel: “You filthy Turkish sow,” it read. “We will slaughter your daughter.”

A German defense lawyer of Turkish descent who specializes in Islamist terrorism cases, Ms. Basay-Yildiz was used to threats from the far right. But this one, which arrived late one night in August 2018, was different.

Signed with the initials of a former neo-Nazi terrorist group, it contained her address, which was not publicly available because of the earlier threats. Whoever sent it had access to a database protected by the state.

“I knew I had to take this seriously — they had our address, they knew where my daughter lives,” Ms. Basay-Yildiz recalled in an interview. “And so for the first time I actually called the police.”

It would bring her little sense of security: An investigation soon showed that the information had been retrieved from a police computer.

Far-right extremism is resurgent in Germany, in ways that are new and very old, horrifying a country that prides itself on dealing honestly with its murderous past. This month, a two-year parliamentary inquiry concluded that far-right networks had extensively penetrated German security services, including its elite special forces.

But increasingly, the spotlight is turning on Germany’s police, a much more sprawling and decentralized force with less stringent oversight than the military — and with a more immediate impact on the everyday safety of citizens, experts warn.

After World War II, the greatest preoccupation among the United States, its allies and Germans themselves was that the country’s police force never again be militarized, or politicized and used as a cudgel by an authoritarian state like the Gestapo.

Policing was fundamentally overhauled in West Germany after the war, and cadets across the country are now taught in unsparing detail about the shameful legacy of policing under the Nazis — and how it informs the mission and institution of policing today.

Still, Germany has been besieged by revelations of police officers in different corners of the country forming groups based on a shared far-right ideology.

“I always hoped that it was individual cases, but there are too many of them now,” said Herbert Reul, the interior minister of North-Rhine Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state, where 203 police officers are under investigation in connection with reported far-right incidents.

For Mr. Reul, the alarm sounded in September, when 31 officers in his state were found to have shared violent neo-Nazi propaganda. “It was almost an entire unit of officers — and we found out by chance,” Mr. Reul said this past week in an interview. “That floored me. This is not trivial.”

“We have a problem with far-right extremism,” he said. “I don’t know how far it reaches inside the institutions. But if we don’t deal with it, it will grow.”

It has been growing by the month.

The 31 officers in Mr. Reul’s western state were suspended in September for sharing images of Hitler, memes of a refugee in a gas chamber and the shooting of a Black man. The unit’s superior was part of the chat, too.

In October, a racist chat group with 25 officers was discovered in the Berlin police after one officer frustrated that superiors would not do anything about it blew the whistle. Separately, six cadets were kicked out of Berlin’s police academy after playing down the Holocaust and sharing images of swastikas in a chat group that had 26 other members.

In November, a police station in the western city of Essen was raided after images of ammunition and benches arranged to form swastikas were discovered in a WhatsApp chat. This past week, a violent far-right chat with four police officers in the northern cities of Kiel and Neumünster was discovered. Ammunition and Nazi memorabilia were found in raids of the homes of two officers.

Much focus has been on the state of Hesse, home to Ms. Basay-Yildiz, who lives in Frankfurt, and a number of other high-profile targets of neo-Nazi threats.

Ms. Basay-Yildiz is intimately familiar with discrimination in Germany.

When she was just 10 years old, her parents, guest workers from Turkey, took the young Seda to help translate when they went to buy car insurance. The salesman declined to sell it to them. “We don’t want foreigners,” he told them.

“So I decided that I want to know what kind of rights I have in Germany,” Ms. Basay-Yildiz recalled. She went to the library, found an agency to file a complaint and got her parents the insurance they wanted.

It was then she knew what she wanted to do with her life.

She rose to prominence as a lawyer when she represented the family of a Turkish flower seller who was shot at his roadside stand. He was the first victim of the National Socialist Underground, known as the N.S.U., a neo-Nazi terrorist group that killed 10 people, nine of them immigrants, between 2000 and 2007.

Police forces across Germany blamed immigrants, failing to recognize that the perpetrators were wanted neo-Nazis, while paid informers of the intelligence service helped hide the group’s leaders. Files on the informers were shredded by the intelligence service within days of the story’s exploding into the public in 2011.

After a five-year trial that ended only in July 2018, Ms. Basay-Yildiz won her clients modest compensation but not what they had most hoped for: answers.

“How big was that network and what did state institutions know?” said Ms. Basay-Yildiz. “After 438 days in court we still don’t know.”

Three weeks after the trial finished, she received her first threat by fax. They have not stopped since. Ms. Basay-Yildiz represents precisely the kind of change in Germany that the far right despises.

But she is not the only one. Police computers in Hesse have been used to call up data on a Turkish-German comedian, Idil Baydar, as well as a left-wing politician, Janine Wissler, who both received threats. The police president of the state failed to report it for months. He had to resign in July. 

Most of the threats, including those to Ms. Basay-Yildiz, have come in the form of emails signed “NSU 2.0.”

In all, the state government has been looking into 77 cases of far-right extremism in its police force since 2015. This past summer it named a special investigator whose team is focused solely on the email threats.

When investigators discovered that Ms. Basay-Yildiz’s information had been called up on a computer in Frankfurt’s first precinct an hour and a half before she received the threat, the police officer who had been logged on at the time was suspended. The whole police station was searched and computers and cellphones were analyzed, leading to the suspension of five more officers. Later in the year, the number grew to 38.

Ms. Basay-Yildiz is not reassured.

“If you have 38 people, you have a structural problem,” she said. “And if you don’t realize this, nothing will change.”

Others, too, fear that the infiltration of police ranks poses special dangers for Germany, not least a creeping subversion of state institutions that are supposed to serve and protect the public.

“These far-right calls for resistance to public servants are an attempt to subvert the state from the inside,” said Stephan Kramer, head of the intelligence agency of the eastern state of Thuringia. “The risk of infiltration is real and has to be taken seriously.”

Like the military, the police have been aggressively courted by the far-right Alternative for Germany party, known by its German initials, AfD, since its founding in 2013. Four of the AfD’s 88 lawmakers in the federal Parliament are former police officers — nearly 5 percent compared with less than 2 percent in all other parties.

Penetrating state institutions, especially those with guns, has been part of the party’s strategy from the start. Especially in eastern states, a more extremist AfD has already made deep inroads into the police force.

Björn Höcke, a history teacher turned firebrand politician who runs the AfD in the eastern state of Thuringia, has repeatedly appealed to police officers and intelligence agents to resist the orders of the government, which he calls “the real enemies of democracy and freedom.”

Then, there is the question of whether the police force can adequately police itself. Despite strong evidence in her case, Ms. Basay-Yildiz notes, the perpetrators have not been identified.

The officer who had been logged into the work station that had been used to access Ms. Basay-Yildiz’s home address, and the names and birthdays of her daughter, husband, mother and father, turned out to be part of a WhatsApp group containing half a dozen police officers who shared racist, neo-Nazi content.

One image showed Hitler on a rainbow with the caption “Good night, you Jews.” There were images of concentration camp inmates and images mocking drowned refugees and people with Down syndrome.

The officers were suspended and interrogated. They offered multiple alibis — requests for information are so numerous, they could not recall accessing the information; many officers can use the same computer.

The investigation stalled.

“It was absurd,” Ms. Basay-Yildiz said. “I have to assume that they did not treat these suspects as they would treat other suspects because they are colleagues.”

More frightening than the threats, Ms. Basay-Yildiz said, was her growing sense that the police were shielding far-right extremists in their ranks.

She was never even shown photos of the officers in question, who remain suspended on reduced pay, she said.

The threats kept coming, sometimes every few months, sometimes weekly. She moved her family to another part of town. Her new address was even more protected than the old one. Ordinary police computers could no longer call it up. For 18 months, she felt safe.

But early this year that changed: Whoever was threatening her had identified her new address and made sure she knew it.

This time the police came back and said her address had not been accessed internally.

“The circle of those inside the security services with access to my details is very small,” she noted. One would think that would make it easier to find the perpetrator. But she is not optimistic.

“I live in Hesse,” she said. “We saw what happened here.”

Last February a far-right gunman killed nine people of immigrant descent in two shisha bars in the city of Hanau, near Frankfurt.

In June 2019, Walter Lübcke, a regional politician who had defended Chancellor Angela Merkel’s refugee policy, was fatally shot on his front porch two hours northeast of Frankfurt after years of death threats.

On Nov. 11, Ms. Basay-Yildiz received her latest threat. It opened with “Heil Hitler!” and closed with “Say hi to your daughter from me.”

When she reported it to the police, their assessment was that she and her daughter were in no concrete danger.

“But I can’t rely on that anymore,” Ms. Basay-Yildiz said. “It’s a great factor of insecurity: Who can I trust? And who can I call if I can’t trust the police?”

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/21/world/europe/germany-far-right-neo-nazis-police.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage

Germany: Coronavirus an extra burden for immigrants

Common pattern in most countries:

The German federal government commissioner for integration, Annette Widmann-Mauz, highlighted the plight of asylum seekers and people with immigration backgrounds during the coronavirus pandemic and the related economic crisis in a statement on Sunday.

“They often work in industries which are particularly affected by the economic consequences of the pandemic, such as retail, logistics or the hospitality sector,” she said, on the eve of the 12th integration summit which shines a light on the effects of the pandemic on immigrants.

At the same time as work conditions are becoming more difficult, the number of opportunities for integration are also shrinking.

The national integration action plan took on a digital offensive offering online integration courses, language teaching and consultations over social networks. The focus is on supporting women to enter and integrate into the job market.

“We mustn’t lose any time on integration, in spite of coronavirus,” Widmann-Mauz said.

A joint effort on integration policy

The integration summit, which began in 2006, will see around 130 representatives from immigrant organizations, religious communities, the economy, politics and sports come together over video conference to discuss the current topics regarding integration policy.

The government’s vice-spokeswoman, Martina Fietz, announced in advance of the summit, that those taking part “will discuss answers to the important question of how we can also strengthen integration in times of coronavirus, as many people with an immigration background are particularly hard hit.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will lead the discussion which will also look at the possibility of recognizing foreign professional and educational qualifications, as well as the promotion of early childhood education.

The first summit took place 14 years ago following a national debate about violence in schools. Teachers from a school in Berlin triggered the founding of the summit through a protest letter they wrote.

Source: Germany: Coronavirus an extra burden for immigrants