The Bavarian state government has claimed that its new special border police forces makes Germany safer. The stats show successes in catching drug dealers – but that it has made little difference for illegal immigration.
The Bavarian government held a press conference on Monday about the first six months of extra border security at the Austrian and Czech borders — the issue that almost fractured Angela Merkel's coalition last summer.
Bavaria's interior minister, Joachim Herrmann, declared the state's new special border unit a success, insisting that "the Bavarian border police makes Bavaria and Germany safer." Joined by the director of the state's border police department, Alois Mannichl, in Munich, Herrmann said 37 traffickers had been caught, while 696 illegal border crossings had been identified.
He also said that the unit would be doubled in size by 2023 and get upgraded equipment. The unit already uses portable fingerprint scanners and drones with thermal-imaging cameras to track down people crossing the border.
"The most modern equipment contributes to the success of our border police," Herrmann said in a statement. "We made approximately €14 million ($16 million) available for the creation and development of the Bavarian border police in 2018."
But while the vast majority of successes have related to drug smuggling and traffic violations, Herrmann made less of a fanfare about the number of refugees picked up at the border: Authorities counted nine by the end of November.
Bavaria sent the new unit, around 500 officers, to police the Austrian and Czech borders last July after a long discussion with federal colleagues about what exactly it could and couldn't do. The federal police is officially in charge of guarding Germany's borders, airports, and major railway stations, while European Union principles allow free movement across interior borders.
But Bavaria's conservative government, keen to demonstrate its toughness in last year's election campaign against a threatening far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), insisted on carrying out extra border checks.
The ensuing turf dispute ended with the agreement that Bavaria's new unit could only turn people away with the approval of their federal colleagues, while both forces agreed to appoint liaison officers and issue each other with situation reports. The new unit primarily carries out random spot checks on Bavaria's highways and at smaller border crossings, which Herrmann insisted has deterred many traffickers.
Monday's press conference also amounted to something of an anti-climax, since the dispute over Bavaria's plans caused a feud between Merkel and Interior Minister Horst Seehofer that briefly threatened to break the coalition between her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and his Christian Social Union (CSU), the conservative party that governs Bavaria but enjoys federal power.
The minister's migration "master plan" included turning away asylum-seekers if they had already been refused asylum or had applied elsewhere in the European Union. This, many argued, breached the limits of the state's powers.
That sticking point was seen as fundamental, since turning people away at Germany's border could potentially disrupt the Dublin agreement, which regulates asylum policy across the EU. Merkel was keen to prevent unilateral steps that could rile other EU members and weaken efforts to create a common European migration agreement.