The room is really too small. Journalists and camera teams are crammed next to each other and whispers of frustration occasionally pass back and forth. Taking up even more space than the media and the three ministers they are there to see, however, are the two elephants in the room.
No burqas in public service
German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere and his state-level counterparts from the Christian Democrats (CDU) convened in Berlin to talk security and integration. Three from the group - de Maiziere, Lorenz Caffier from Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Frank Henkel from Berlin - presented a "Berlin Declaration
" from a hotel conference room.
Thomas de Maiziere announced only a partial ban on burqas and niqabs
They called for 15,000 more police, more video surveillance and more tools to counter cybercrime. They also want to ban the Islamic burqa and niqab in certain circumstances, namely in court, cars and public service.
"Showing your face is an act of communication," de Maiziere said. Henkel said he wants "our country to be recognizable." An outright ban on the Islamic facial veil is not called for in their paper, despite it having been discussed by some of their CDU colleagues. "We are against the burqa," the interior minister said, but it should only be banned "where it's necessary that the face be visible."
The debate over dual citizenship also failed to result in unanimity among the ministers. "Preventing dual citizenship must be adhered to in principle," Henkel said. But there are exceptions to this principle, which the ministers will take up in 2018 or 2019. This most of all affects those born in Germany to non-German parents. As of two years ago, these people are now allowed to hold both passports. Dual citizens who join terrorist groups should have their German citizenship revoked, the ministers said.
Connection to campaign 'nonsense'
Caffier was the group's spokesman. Henkel served as host. Both are in campaign mode. Any connection, however, between the current discussion of the burqa ban and the looming electoral threat posed by the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, is "complete nonsense," Henkel said. In Caffier's state the AfD is polling at 20 percent. He called the charge "foolish."
Frank Henkel and Lorenz Caffier fear the AfD will make big gains as migration fears grow
The ministers' secondary interest pertains to internal party politics. De Maiziere twice suggested the "CDU and CSU have the same position" on these matters. In the past year, the CDU's more conservative sister party in Bavaria, the Christian Social Union (CSU), has pulled further away from the CDU on matters of integration and security, urging Chancellor Angela Merkel to reverse her more open stance towards refugees.
Bavaria's Premier Horst Seehofer (CSU) capitalized on the decisions made by his Interior Minister, Joachim Herrmann. "His course towards greater security sets an example for Germany," Seehofer said.
'Declaration of distrust against the majority of dual citizens'
The CDU's coalition partner, the Social Democrats (SPD), praised the plan for more police, but strongly criticized the integration policies. The debate over dual citizenship is a "declaration of distrust against the vast majority of dual citizens who stand firmly behind Germany's Basic Law," said Federal Justice Minister Heiko Maas (SPD). Thomas Oppermann, parliamentary group head of the SPD, called Henkel and Caffier "irresponsible campaigners." Bans on the burqa and dual citizenship have nothing to do with security, he said.
Bernd Riexinger, head of the post-communist Left party, called the paper "saber rattling and cheap campaign talk," but was pleased the ministers had at least "removed the most absurd parts" relative to what had been discussed in the last days.