Germany’s centre-right Chancellor Angela Merkel has announced that she will run for a fourth term in office.
She told her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party in Berlin that she expected her toughest campaign yet and would “fight for our values and our way of life.” An election is due to be held next year after four years of coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD). Speaking to reporters, Mrs Merkel disclosed that the decision to run for a fourth term had been “anything but trivial after 11 years in office,” adding that she expected challenges from both the right and the left of the political spectrum.
While Mrs Merkel’s poll ratings have slipped since the height of her popularity, she retains wide support. A poll for one Sunday newspaper found that 55% of Germans would vote for her. However she will be battling the tide of populism that swept Donald Trump to victory in the Untied States and which is also washing across Europe.
The Chancellor, who has been in office since 2005, is also being challenged by the populist right-wing AfD party. In September, she accepted responsibility for election defeats for the CDU in several states, conceding that her open-door policy towards migrants had been a factor. Earlier this year, the head of the country’s federal office for migration and refugees disclosed that Germany expected up to 300,000 migrants to arrive in the country this year. Last year, it received more than a million applications for asylum.
If she win’s next year’s general election, which is due to take place between August and October, she will equal the post-war record set by Helmut Kohl, who was chancellor from 1982 to 1998. Germany does not have term limits on the country’s top job.
Merkel’s Three Terms in Office:
2005 – 2009
- November 2005 – Becomes Germany’s first female leader after stalemate elections result in grand coalition
- September 2007 – Holds historic talks with exiled Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama, in a move that angers China
2009 – 2013
- June 2010 – Merkel’s fiscal austerity programme to deal with the eurozone crisis is approved
- October 2010 – Merkel states that attempts to build a multicultural society in Germany have “utterly failed”
- May 2011 – Merkel states that a nuclear phase-out by 2022 can make Germany trailblazer
- June 2012 – Chancellor urges the European Union political union, calling for “more Europe
- 2013 – Claims emerge that a US spy agency tapped Merkel’s phone, in a move that strains German-US ties.
2013 – Present
- February 2015 – Merkel, along with French President Francois Hollande, brokers a deal aimed to stop fighting in eastern Ukraine
- December 2015 – Merkel is named as Person of the Year by Time magazine
- March/September 2015 – CPU suffers defeats in regional polls, with Merkel admitting that her immigration policies were a key factor.
- November 2015 – In the wake of a deadly terrorist attack in Paris, France, Merkel’s government pledges to deploy aircraft and a navy ship to fight the so-called Islamic State (IS) group in Syria
Germany’s plan of conducting security investigations of all military recruits appears to be more and more a concrete reality.
German media reported on 5 November that the military counter-intelligence service (MAD) identified 20 Islamists in the country’s armed forces. An agency’s spokesman confirmed the figure later, adding that other 60 potential cases are under investigation for suspected links to Islamist militants.
Early in 2015, MAD had already warned that extremists could have potentially taken advance of the German Military to gain skills that they could then take to groups such as the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Reportedly, in fact, Daesh and other terrorist organizations were actively encouraging their followers to join states military forces to get training. This seemed to be confirmed, according to MAD President Christof Gramm, by the fact that, for example, the killers who launched an attack on the Paris magazine Charlie Hebdo had military skills.
Two months after this attack, Gramm proposed for the first time an initial check for applicants to armed services.
After multiple Islamist militant attacks that shook Germany in July this year, the German government decided in August to allow preliminary background checks on recruits to be done starting in July 2017. At that time it was reported that more than 300 German soldiers were being investigated for some forms of suspected extremism: 268 suspected right-wing extremists, 64 suspected Islamists and six suspected left-wing extremists.
According to MAD it has been decided to speed things up after recruitment offices across the country have reported increasing individual inquiries from applicants expressing a commitment request to join the German Military (Bundeswehr) of only few months and expressly interested in intensive weapons and equipment training.
Currently, under German military law, recruits only need to present their police records and formally agree to comply with the German constitution to enlist; moreover just service members that have already enlisted, including soldiers and officers, are vetted.
The new measure, if adopted, would allow conducting comprehensive background checks on all applicants as of January 2017 and it would result in at least 20,000 screenings annually, causing some €8.2 billion in additional expenditures.
The German army is regarded as one of Europe’s most capable in terms of training. During army boot camp, recruits are taught shooting and marksmanship skills, map reading and topography, and the fundamentals of woodland and urban warfare, as well as to give emergency aid. Having said that, it is evident that Islamic infiltrations in the national army constitute a serious risk not only for insider attacks in country but also for the rest of Europe.
However, this measure has received critics from several parts of the public opinion, both in Germany and outside. The Measure is, in fact, considered in line with the questioned new state defence plan put in place in August, which entails for citizens to stockpile food and water enough to last for at least ten days, in the event of a major disaster or armed attack.
According to its critics, the German government seems concentrating its efforts just on radical Islam, when the country is relatively safe in comparison to France and other nations. There would be instead other areas that need particular attention like right and left wing extremists.
Senior parties allies of German Chancellor Angela Merkel are increasingly indicating that they expect her to run for a fourth term in office in 2017, even through her popularity has declined under the impact of the migrant crisis.
Merkel, 62, has been Germany’s chancellor since 2005, however she has repeatedly declined to comment whetehr she will run again in 2017, stating only that she will make her intentions clear in due course. In September, she disclosed that she was still motivated, however a senior ally of Merkel’s recently indicated that he did not see any other realistic alternative for the post of chairwoman of the Christian Democrats (CDU) – a role which is likely to be filled by the party’s top candidate for chancellor. When asked whether he expected candidates other than Merkel to run for party chair at its conference in December, Peter Tauber, secretary general of the CDU disclosed “as far as I know, there’s no one else who is preparing to run for this office.” Meanwhile in an interview on 16 October with Tagesspiegel newspaper, Tauber pointed to Merkel’s view that one person should fill the roles of both party chair and chancellor. Meanwhile on 17 October, Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, a CDU member who is often rumoured to be a possible successor to Merkel, told a gathering of senior military leaders that she hoped to continue serving in her role beyond the election. CDU member Annegret Kramp-Karrenbuaer, who is premier of the state of Saarland, stated of the vote for party chair: “There will be one female candidate,” adding that the party would elect that candidate with a big majority.
While Merkel is seen as one of the most successful chancellors of post-unification Germany, her popularity has declined since her decision last year to allow hundreds of thousands of migrants into the country. However in an Infratest dimap poll, which was published on 6 October, 54 percent of Germans indicated that they were satisfied with her work, up by 9 points compared with a September poll.
In the wake of a train stabbing, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere has warned that Germans should be prepared for further attacks carried out by small groups and radicalized “lone wolves.”
On 18 July, five people were wounded, two critically, by a 17-year-old who went on the rampage on a train in Wurzburg in the southern state of Bavaria. According to witnesses, the attacker, who has been named as Muhammad Riyadh, screamed “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) three times. Riyadh, who arrived in Germany last year as an unaccompanied migrant, was shot dead holding an axe and a knife. A video has since emerged, in which he states that he was a soldier of the so-called Islamic State (IS) group. Through its news agency IS has claimed that the teenager was a follower. Authorities found a hand-painted IS flag in his room.
Riyadh had only just moved to a foster family in Wurzburg from a refugee centre at Ochsenfurt, which is located south of Frankfurt. He was described as a quiet boy who had had a work placement in a bakery. He apparently did not display any radical behaviour. Questions however have been raised about whether he was really from Afghanistan, with reports emerging that a Pakistani document was found in his room. It is common knowledge that Afghan refugees are more likely to be given asylum in Germany than irregular migrants from Pakistan, so there have been many cases of migrants pretending to come from Afghanistan. Furthermore, several clues to his origin have also emerged from the video that he filmed before he carried out the attack on the region al train near his home. His use of the Pashto language suggests that he spent at least some time in Pakistan, because of his choice of words. When speaking of Syria, Riyadh chose to use the word Sham, a word that is commonly used in Pakistan. In Afghanistan, Pashto speakers would say Shuria. Furthermore, his choice of term for army is also key as he states, Fauj, which is common in Pakistan, rather than Aurdu, which is the word that is used in Afghanistan.
Interior Minister de Maiziere has since reported that the teenager had been “incited” by IS propaganda, adding however that there was no evidence that he was following the militant group’s orders. Furthermore, Riyadh was unknown to German intelligence agencies and no concrete link has yet been established with IS. The minister has warned that while the government is doing all it can in order to prevent such attacks, there could be no guarantee. The minister described Monday night’s attack as “perhaps half-way between running amok and terror,” adding that “in Germany, we must also expect attacks by small groups or radicalized ‘lone-wolf’ attackers.”
The attack has raised questions about Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door refugee policy. The attack is likely to deepen worries about so-called “lone wolf” attacks across Europe and could put political pressure on Merkel, who over the past year has welcomed hundreds of thousands of migrants to Germany. Unlike neighbouring France and Belgium, Germany in recent years has not been the victim of a major attack by Islamist militants, however security officials have disclosed that they have thwarted a large number of plots.
On 13 May, Germany’s lower house of parliament approved a draft law effectively declaring Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia as safe countries. The move was done in a bid to ease deportation of failed asylum seekers from those North African states.
The law passed easily in the Bundestag lower house, where Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives and their left-leaning Social Democrat coalition partners hold a majority. Only three lawmakers abstained from the vote while 424 voted for bill and 143 voted against it. The government commissioner for human rights, Baerbel Kofler, voted against the bill, stating that there were “proven and documented human rights violations” in those three countries. Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere has defended the law, stating that only 0.7 percent of asylum applicants from the three North African countries were granted refugees status in the first three months of this year.
The bill, which has been criticized by human rights groups as well as the opposition Greens and hard left Die Linke, still needs to be receive final approval from parliament’s upper house. If passed, the law will effectively allow German authorities to speed up the processing of asylum applicants from those countries and deport them if they are rejected.
In January, the German government tightened asylum rules in a bid to stem an influx of migrants, which last year saw more than one million people entering the country. Most of those who entered Germany in 2015 were asylum seekers fleeing conflicts in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq.