German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière will not support a ban of full body veils for women as part of a multi-pronged security strategy that he presented today (11 August) in Berlin.
De Maizière called a Germany-wide ban on burqas “constitutionally problematic” and suggested that the country’s powerful states could “presumably” implement their own laws to forbid veils.
“You can’t forbid everything you reject and I reject the burqa,” de Maizière told a news conference in Berlin.
Women are already banned from wearing burqas in public in France and Belgium.
De Maizière said his governing centre-right CDU party supports his security plan. He also vowed to discuss the strategy with interior ministers from Germany’s sixteen states.
The CDU is under pressure from the right-wing party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), which amped up its criticism of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s refugee policy following a string of violent attacks in German cities last month. AfD politicians have been elected to local parliaments in eight of Germany’s 16 states.
Elections for the German Bundestag will be held in the autumn next year and local elections in the eastern state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern are scheduled for early next month. Merkel’s CDU and its coalition partner, the centre-left SPD, are pushing to keep their voters from supporting the AfD.
De Maizière also wants to expand Germany’s police and intelligence agencies and make it easier to deport foreign citizens who commit crimes as part of his security strategy.
He has come under fire this week from the German Medical Association, which represents the country’s doctors, for suggesting changes to medical confidentiality.
De Maizière insisted today that he does not want to get rid of laws preventing doctors from disclosing patients’ medical information, but said he will meet with the association’s leader and hopes to come up with a solution that will “minimise dangers for citizens in Germany”.
Frank Ulrich Montgomery, leader of the medical association, said in a statement yesterday that de Maizière should not tamper with patient confidentiality.
De Maizière told reporters that he wants to clamp down on Germans with dual citizenship who join terrorist organisations in other countries.
“If they have another citizenship then they will lose their German citizenship,” he said.
More than 800 Germans have left the country to join the Islamic State, according to figures from Germany’s domestic intelligence agency.
De Maizière’s security plan also includes measures to improve German authorities’ access to the EU-wide fingerprint database Eurodac and flight passenger records, the controversial data sharing agreement that was approved by the European Parliament earlier this year.
A new government office set to focus on cracking encrypted online communication will have around 400 employees, according to de Maizière. He told reporters that law enforcement agencies will focus more on finding criminal activity on the darknet.
German government officials have targeted the darknet, a network of encrypted websites, as a hotbed for criminal activity after it was revealed that the 18-year-old gunman behind recent deadly attacks in Munich bought his weapon using online tools to make his purchase anonymous.
“The cyberspace is also a criminal space and therefore has to be space for investigation,” de Maizière said.