Terror sparks call to centralize German police powers

In the wake of terror attack in Berlin, Germany’s interior ministry wants to centralize and expand police and domestic intelligence services in what would be the most sweeping overhaul of the country’s security apparatus since World War II. Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière said expanding the powers of the federal police was essential for Germany to confront a growing terrorist threat. He also called for Germany’s regional intelligence authorities to be merged into a single service under Berlin’s authority. “Given the possibility for crisis and catastrophe in Germany…we must accept that our country has to be better prepared for difficult times than it has been,” de Maizière wrote in a full-page essay in the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. “It is time to strengthen Germany’s ability to respond to crises.”

The proposals, if realized, would effectively reverse the decentralized security architecture imposed on Germany after the war that divides responsibility for the country’s internal policing among its federal states. Determined to ensure post-war Germany does not devolve into another dictatorship, the U.S. and its allies insisted on limiting the central government’s oversight of internal security, vesting regional governments with such powers instead.
Decades later, critics of that system, both among police and in the political realm, say the unwieldy structure has outlived its usefulness, leaving Germany exposed to attacks like the one in Berlin.

The jurisdiction of Germany’s federal police, for example, is limited to railway stations, airports and borders. Regional police authorities from Germany’s 16 states handle all other police work, a system that has often hampered coordination across Germany’s internal borders.
Intelligence gathering poses another challenge. Instead of a single domestic intelligence service, like MI5 in the U.K. or the American FBI, Germany relies on a network of 16 state authorities. Last month’s terrorist attack on a Christmas market in Berlin, which left 12 dead, exposed the shortcomings of that system.