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German ministers demand tough response to political violence

May 7, 2024

After an attack on a Social Democrat politician in Dresden on Friday, Germany's state interior ministers have demanded tougher punishments for political violence.

Interior Minister Nancy Faeser
Interior Minister Nancy Faeser called for the meeting with her state-level colleagues after an MEP was hospitalized after an attackImage: HANNIBAL HANSCHKE/REUTERS

German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser and the interior ministers of Germany's 16 federal states said on Tuesday that they want to toughen up laws to protect politicians and election helpers from politically motivated violence.

The call was the result of a special video conference convened to discuss the issue of political violence after Social Democrat (SPD) lawmaker Matthias Ecke, the party's leading candidate for the eastern state of Saxony in the upcoming European elections, was attacked while hanging out election posters in Dresden on Friday night.

Authorities in Saxony said at least one of the four alleged teenage attackers belonged to the far-right scene, while police said the same group had earlier assaulted and injured a Green Party election helper nearby.

What did the state ministers say?

At the conference on Tuesday, the interior ministers backed parliamentary initiatives from the states of Saxony and Bavaria to push for tougher punishments for bodily harm and assault.

The interior minister for the northeastern state of Brandenburg, Michael Stübgen, who chaired the conference, condemned the weekend's attacks "in the strongest terms" and said that current legislation "no longer sufficiently reflects" the threat to those actively involved in politics.

"The repeated attacks represent a social development whereby people are trying to achieve their political aims not only with words but with violence, hate and harassment," he said. "This endangers our democracy and our law-based freedom."

Federal interior minister Faeser spoke of an "exceptionally brutal act of violence" against Ecke and called for a "clear stop signal."

She said the number of attacks on politicians rose by 53% between 2022 and 2023.

'Clear signal' against political violence

"Violent criminals who attack democrats must feel the full force of the law with quick and meaningful punishments," Faeser had said ahead of the conference, calling for greater protection for election helpers and quicker and tougher sentencing.

She said a "more visible police presence" was necessary to protect democrats at campaign events but said: "The police cannot be everywhere at once, but they can adjust their protection concepts and increase their presence, as is already happening in many places."

Brandenburg's Stübgen added that the "police also cannot prevent the brutalization of the political discourse on their own."

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier called for solidarity with democratic politicians.

"Democracy requires a political culture free from hate and harassment and absolutely free from violence," he said at an event in the northeastern state of Brandenburg on Tuesday, saying that authorities must do all that is necessary to identify criminals and that courts must issue fair sentences.

"This means that we also have to position ourselves behind those who are fulfilling their democratic duty and show our disgust at those who infringe on the rules of democracy."

Germany's Scholz condemns attack on SPD's EU election candidate

mf/ab (dpa, epd, Reuters)