In its final report, a parliamentary committee investigating the mishandled NSU neo-Nazi terror investigations suggested 47 reforms for police, public prosecutors, and intelligence agencies.
For Sebastian Edathy, Germany's security agencies clearly failed in their investigation of the neo-Nazi terror group that called itself the National Socialist Underground (NSU). Edathy, a member of the opposition Social Democratic Party, chaired a parliamentary inquiry into the NSU for the last one-and-a-half years. He called the botched police and secret service investigations a "historically unprecedented disaster."
Members of the parliamentary inquiry came together across party lines to outline their suggestions for reforms to prevent future investigatory breakdowns.
The 47 recommendations made up just five pages of inquiry's more than 1,000-page final report. Twenty-one of these concerned police, while the rest were aimed at state prosecutors and Germany's domestic intelligence agency - the Office for the Protection of the Constitution.
NSU debacle as a warning
Both state and federal police were accused of ignoring evidence that pointed to far-right perpetrators, so the committee recommended that possible ties to the far-right should be examined whenever a connection between victims and extremists could be suspected.
The committee also said investigators should document the reason for excluding potential right-wing suspects whenever this is the case. The parliamentarians said they wanted to prevent serious crimes from being conducted with outdated stereotypes and by officers who ignore facts that could lead in an unexpected direction. The committee also said cases should be re-examined if there is even a possibility that a trail to right-wing extremism was not sufficiently investigated.
On top of this was the problem of communication: police and intelligence officers need to exchange more information at all levels and better coordinate their efforts, the politicians underlined. They said officials should learn to handle mistakes and learn from them. Edathy added that, "Sometimes there is more competition than cooperation among security agencies."
The report also called on police departments to recruit more officers of foreign background, to better reflect the diversity in German society. They also said that intercultural skills should be a key part of police training, and training methods needed to be changed so that right-wing extremism and terrorism are no longer played down by authorities.
Who makes the decisions?
The parliamentary inquiry went on to make ten recommendations for the judiciary and its failure concerning the NSU terrorist cell, criticizing a series of cases where investigations moved too slowly or were left open. The committee said that evidence that could have proved useful may have been destroyed or lost over time, and recommended that evidence from unclosed cases should not be destroyed until the longest statute of limitations has expired. As the office of the federal state prosecutor said it did not have jurisdiction for the majority of the NSU crimes, the committee called on representatives to set clear guidelines for when federal prosecutors should take over cases from their state counterparts.
The committee concluded that the NSU investigations were hindered by the fact that too many state prosecutors felt they had complete jurisdiction over cases that occurred in their states. For that reason, the committee recommended that collective cases needed to be started more quickly. The committee also said security authorities, prosecutors, and legal officials should be trained to better understand right-wing violence and its threat.
Spy agencies need to change their ways
Recommendations 32 to 42 of the parliamentary report were aimed at the intelligence agencies, but they varied greatly depending on the party of the politician making the suggestion. For that reason, the final report only suggested measures that could be taken immediately and only needed a minimal consensus.
All members of the committee agreed that the Office for the Protection of the Constitution had worked in an uncoordinated manner. A number of important pieces of information were not, or insufficiently, evaluated by authorities. Because authorities in the agency were so wrong, the committee said there needs to be a "complete change of mentality," - adding that the agency needed to learn how to handle cases that involved groups of society of an immigrant background.
Disagreement over informants
The politicians also saw serious flaws in the way intelligence agencies handled their informants in far-right extremist groups. But the proposed solutions to the problem depended again on the party giving the recommendations. The Greens and Left party would like to see authorities do away with informants. They said that at the very least there needs to be clear legal rules governing how agencies deal with informants, depending partly on whether the informants were paid, volunteered, or were approached by authorities, and whether they were offered anything in return for their information.
Clemens Binninger, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, said he was confident the report would lead to much-needed reforms.
"The strength of the recommendation and the overall report is that they are supported by all the political parties," he said. "I think that means there will be more pressure to make the changes."
Binninger added that it would make sense for an interim report to be made in two years time and evaluate progress. "We will have to see what has been implemented and what still needs to be done," he said.