Terrorism Fears a No Show in German Elections | Current Affairs | DW | 03.09.2002
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Current Affairs

Terrorism Fears a No Show in German Elections

Almost a year after the Sept. 11 attacks, terrorism has vanished from the political agenda in Germany. Experts say time and other issues have pushed the topic from voters' minds.

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The American embassy in Berlin after September 11

In the months following Sept. 11, Germans couldn’t get enough tough talk on terrorism.

The realization that the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were most likely planned in Hamburg, sent shockwaves through the country and, as a result, through the political establishment as well.

The government was quick to react: Interior Minister Otto Schily prepared two “security packages” that expanded the reach and financing of Germany’s law enforcement and got them past the legislature within a quick few months.

Germans rewarded their government’s tough talk on terrorism with high approval ratings and observers wondered at the speed and solidarity with which Berlin was operating.

Now, just weeks before the attacks’ anniversary, terrorism has all but escaped from the voters’ minds, and, as a result, the political agenda. In the midst of a hard-fought election campaign, Germany’s recent floods, the high unemployment rate and slumping economy have grabbed the headlines, pushing aside concern over the spread of Islamic fundamentalism and terror cells in the country.

The reasons, say experts, have to do with both the time lapse since Sept. 11 and the zero tolerance image Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s government has presented since then. The speed with which the government moved to pass anti-terrorism measures and assure Germans their country was safe was enough to allay fears relatively quickly, said Jochen Hippler, political scientist at the University of Duisberg.

Quick enough to calm fears

“In a sense, the internal security situation, at least unofficially, has never been deemed so dangerous, “ said Hippler. “It would have been different if the government had been more loose in its words and actions.”

There is also little difference in the way both Schröder’s Social Democratic Party and his challenger, Edmund Stoiber and his Christian Democratic and Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) bloc, approach the anti-terrorism fight .

The CDU/CSU and SPD look at foreign policy and domestic security in the same context. The Union bloc argues that instability on German soil is often connected to instablity caused by a country’s foreign policy. The red-green coalition says that many of the Union’s suggestions, such as increased cooperation between immigration and police authorities, have already been put into place.

Even Schily’s challenger in the Union bloc, hard-line Bavarian Interior Minister Günther Beckstein, grudgingly admires the former Green Party member’s tough stance on domestic security. “Schily and I went to the same school,” Beckstein has told reporters in the past.

As a result, campaign managers on both sides, eager to play up differences between the CDU/CSU and SPD, have pushed more divisive issues further up the agenda. Law enforcement wants terrorism back on the agenda

The absence of terrorism in today’s political agenda has made it difficult for at least one interested bloc: the country’s law enforcement lobby. Since interest in domestic security died down, police lobbyist Rüdiger Holecek has had a difficult time bringing complaints of underfunding and staffing to the government’s attention.

Holecek, of the country’s police union, says that the government’s domestic security plan has overstretched an already overburdened police force. More officers have been recruited into the country’s federal domestic security agency, the Verfassungschutz, without enough money being left over for adequate replacements.

“We’re suffering as a result of this inattention,” Holecek told DW-WORLD.

The group, which represents the interests of more than 190 000 officers in Germany, plans to call attention to itself during a press conference on Sept. 11. At the conference the union will present a handbook on terrorist activity in Germany. Holecek is hoping people will take notice.

“We want to prevent this topic from sinking out of view of the political,” establishment, he said.

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