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"On the backs of the cops who put their heads down"

It is responsible for security at train stations and airports, secures the borders and organizes the protection of important federal authorities: The Federal Police is one of the most important institutions in the German security architecture.

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"On the backs of the cops who put their heads down"

It is responsible for security at train stations and airports, secures the borders and organizes the protection of important federal authorities: The Federal Police is one of the most important institutions in the German security architecture. It is all the more astonishing that the approximately 50,000 employees of the authority act on a legal basis which, according to experts, can hardly meet the requirements of the 21st century.

The last comprehensive reform of the law dates back to 1994. Compared to today, migration and smuggling crime hardly played a role, cell phones and the Internet just as little. The former Federal Minister of the Interior, Horst Seehofer (CSU), therefore launched a comprehensive reform in the past legislative period. But the draft law failed in 2021 in the Federal Council.

Seehofer's successor, Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD), made a new attempt. But this time, too, the reform is proving to be difficult. Because the draft law has not even cleared the first hurdle, the decision by the federal cabinet. The reason: the coalition partners are raising objections – and Faeser's people have not yet managed to allay the concerns by changing the draft. Faeser's perhaps most important legislative project is on hold.

The need for reform is undisputed in the traffic light coalition. But the devil is in the details. On the one hand, there are the objections of the Greens. The party is particularly bothered by the wording on the ban on so-called “racial profiling”. The Ministry of the Interior has inserted a passage in the current draft law that is intended to prevent discriminatory controls. The Greens consider the wording to be too imprecise.

According to the parliamentary group, the current wording can even be used to justify discrimination based on external appearance. The wording proposed by the Ministry of the Interior even falls short of the basic law's principle of equal treatment.

Irene Mihalic, parliamentary secretary and at the same time security policy expert of the Greens parliamentary group, points out that for years Germany has been called upon by European institutions to take action against discrimination and "racial profiling". "The amendment to the Federal Police Act now offers a real opportunity to create more legal certainty for random personal checks and to prevent discrimination," said Mihalic at the request of WELT.

The Greens would also like clearer regulation for the so-called control receipts. The draft by the Ministry of the Interior almost states that persons being checked have the right to have the measure confirmed in writing by the officials carrying it out. If the Greens have their way, the officials should also be obliged to provide information about the right to receive a control receipt. The evidence enabled "a new possibility for the traceability and verifiability of police work," said the Green MP Mihalic.

The FDP-led Ministry of Transport also sees a need for improvement. The stumbling block: The operators of airports and train stations, first and foremost Deutsche Bahn, have to give the Federal Police rooms for police stations and other facilities in their buildings according to the current legal situation. So far, however, the federal police have had to pay the operators a usage fee for this.

If the Ministry of the Interior has its way, the operators of the transport infrastructure would have to accommodate the Federal Police free of charge. This is a "far-reaching, unjustified intervention," according to Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP).

The instrument of self-reimbursement has proven its worth. "If this were abolished, we see the danger that appropriate accommodation can no longer be guaranteed," the ministry said at the request of this newspaper. The ministry is keen to “find proportionate solutions that do not make travel more expensive”.

It is unclear why the coalition was not able to get the issues out of the way long ago. According to all those involved, the differences appear to be bridgeable. The Ministry of the Interior has either not responded to the objections at all or at least not adequately, so the tenor of the Greens and FDP.

In fact, the vote on the draft law has already been taken off the agenda of the federal cabinet several times. Not only in the coalition, but above all in the federal security apparatus, the grumbling is getting louder. Because the reform package includes many innovations and additional competencies that the employees of the Federal Police have been waiting for a long time.

Officials are to be given the right, for example, to eavesdrop on telephone calls and other telecommunications in order to avert impending dangers, or to use electronic tools to determine the location of mobile phones. According to the authority, this is an important tool in the fight against smugglers and against cross-border activities by extremists. Another new feature would be the legal possibility of being able to shoot down drones in an emergency, for example when they are circling near airports.

But not only the powers are to be expanded. The traffic light also wants to strengthen civil rights with the new version of the law. The federal police should follow the example of the Bremen police with the issue of control receipts. In addition, the federal police officers should in future be identifiable either by a name tag or alternatively by the visible wearing of a service number. The regulation is intended to help police officers to better identify breaches of duty and to be able to call them to account in the event of violations.

The resilience of the Federal Police against infiltration attempts by extremists should also be strengthened. The officials should go through a mandatory security check. Enemies of the constitution should be recognized more quickly and removed from the service. How necessary such a check is was shown recently after the large-scale raid in the Reichsbürger milieu, during which the security authorities also arrested retired and active police officers who are said to have planned a coup d'etat.

The Faeser Ministry is not the only one who sees the need for legal reform. The federal police need the "necessary modern and legally secure legal bases," says the green interior expert Mihalic. Transport Minister Wissing also said that they were “interested in the law being passed quickly”. But the ball is in the hands of the Ministry of the Interior, they say. Faeser's people have either not responded to the objections at all or only inadequately.

The police union (GdP) is getting impatient with the delays. "It is incomprehensible that no progress can be seen," said the GdP chairman responsible for the federal police, Andreas Roßkopf. Federal police officers would eagerly await the additional powers.

"The amendment to the law is long overdue and the disputes in the coalition must not be carried out on the backs of the officials who are putting their heads down," said Roßkopf. However, the officials should not be harassed by too many regulations, for example with regard to the issuance of control receipts. "The federal police must not become a toothless tiger," said Roßkopf.

On March 1, the traffic light now wants to make another attempt to pass the amendment to the law. According to information from WELT, the draft by the Ministry of the Interior will then be back on the federal government's agenda. Will the reform be decided this time? When asked about the status of the legislative process, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry only said that the “internal government coordination” was ongoing.

But even if the traffic light should actually decide on the paragraphs at the beginning of March: the legislative process is only just beginning. In addition to the Bundestag, the Bundesrat must also agree. The experts at the Ministry of the Interior should well remember the difficulties that can arise in view of the failure during the term of office of Faeser's predecessor, Horst Seehofer.

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