Reconciling the imperatives of freedom and security
Chancellor Angela Merkel has condemned the attacks in Würzburg and Ansbach, which she has described as "Islamist terrorism". These attacks are harrowing, chilling and depressing, said the Chancellor at the beginning of her summer press conference in Berlin. "Taboos of civilisation are being broken. These crimes are perpetrated in places where any of us could have been."
"We owe it to the victims and their families"
At the same time Angela Merkel assured her audience that the authorities would do everything to get to the bottom of the crimes. "We owe it to the victims and their families; we must do it for our own safety and security and for the refugees seeking protection here." The attacks in Würzburg and Ansbach were perpetrated by two individuals who came to Germany as refugees – acts like these "are a sign of contempt for the country that took them in". They are a sign of contempt for the helpers and the volunteers, and also for "the many other refugees who seek protection here from war and violence".
The attacks test our attitudes to freedom and security, said the Chancellor. The attackers spread "fear and hatred between cultures and within our society". Angela Merkel pointed out that many measures have already been taken, and gave the example of removing the passports of individuals found to represent a threat, improved cooperation between the federal and state levels, the reintroduction of data retention requirements, clamping down on the use of prepaid mobile phones and increasing staffing levels within the security authorities. The top priority must be to act to close gaps, she said. "We are doing everything to guarantee security and safety within a free nation governed by the rule of law," said the Chancellor.
Germany will remain true to its principles
Angela Merkel reaffirmed that Germany is a strong country that will accept this challenge, while remaining true to its principles: individuals suffering political persecution will be granted asylum, and people fleeing war will be given protection under the terms of the Refugee Convention.
Angela Merkel declared that when she said one year ago "We can do it", she did not say it was going to be easy. Today she is still convinced that Germany can cope with this task as a nation. Germany is helping people in distress, but at the same time it must fight terrorism, ensure the safety and security of its people, and push ahead with integration measures. It is a question of reconciling the imperatives of freedom and security so that "we can continue to live as we live". That is why the state must do its job and restore trust as widely as possible. "We are working on it," said Angela Merkel.
In response to the most recent attacks in Germany, Angela Merkel outlined a nine-point plan designed to enhance security. It includes lowering the barriers to deporting unsuccessful asylum-seekers, an "early warning system" to identify radicalisation among refugees and joint exercises involving the police and the Bundeswehr, as well as speeding up work to establish a central unit for information technology in the security sector (Zitis) to decode online communication.
Wherever gaps are identified, action must be taken, said the Chancellor.
A harsh test for Europe
Germany and Europe are facing a historical test, said the Chancellor. There have never been so many refugees since the Second World War. She expressed her disappointment in the face of the unwillingness of some European Union members to do their bit. The distribution of refugees across the EU, from Greece for instance, must be faster.
The pressure posed by the refugee crisis has, however, also made possible positive developments, said the Chancellor. She gave the example of the joint European Border and Coast Guard, the EU-Turkey Agreement and the development of migration partnerships with African partner countries. There is still a lot of work to do in Europe, she conceded.
Turkey – need to uphold the rule of law
The Chancellor described the EU-Turkey Agreement as a good example of a migration partnership. The Agreement has "largely ended" illegal border crossings, she said. She pointed out that Turkey is still an important partner in caring for refugees. The country has been exemplary in taking in three million refugees and caring for them. It is right for the European Union to provide financial support in this context, she said.
The Chancellor called on Turkey’s leaders to uphold the rule of law when prosecuting those suspected of being behind the military coup. It is natural in a situation like that in Turkey "to use every option available under the rule of law" to take action against those responsible for the coup. But in a state governed by the rule of law, the "principle of moderation" must always be observed.
Angela Merkel expressed the concern that extremely harsh action is being taken in Turkey in the wake of the coup. In view of the three million people in Germany with Turkish roots, it is "very important" for Germany that moderation is observed in Turkey.
"TTIP right and important"
Speaking to Berlin’s press corps Angela Merkel also spoke about other issues. She declared, for instance, that she stands by the EU’s Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the USA. "I cannot see why the two largest economic blocks should not set standards in the world, particularly in terms of consumer protection, environmental protection and similar matters."
At the last European Council meeting all member states were in favour of continuing negotiations. "I believe that this agreement is absolutely right and important, and absolutely in Europe’s best interests." A decision on whether the agreement complies with European requirements will only come at the end of the process, however, she said. That is why it is now important to continue talks.
Bringing pensions in the east into line with western levels
Asked if and when pensions in the east would be raised to western levels the Chancellor stressed, "The German government stands by its commitment to harmonise pension law." To this end technical talks are ongoing between ministries. This matter is not, however, classed as an urgent financial priority. Over the coming weeks there will be intensive consultations. No matter how desirable it is to harmonise pensions, a balance must be retained for the younger generation.
With a view to the general pension level in future she said that state, company and private pension provisions must be rationally balanced, taking into account the number of pensioners relative to the size of the workforce.