In an address to mark the new year, German Chancellor Angela Merkel acknowledged that it’s “especially bitter” when refugees commit terrorist attacks, vowing an enhanced focus on the country’s security services in the face of a greater terrorist threat from within.
In addition to a truck plowing into a Berlin market six days before Christmas, Merkel noted other attacks that have made 2016 “a year of difficult trials.”
“Doubtless the most difficult trial is Islamist terrorism, which has been setting its sights on Germany for years now. In 2016 it struck us in the heart of our country: in Würzburg, in Ansbach, and just a few days ago at a Christmas market at the Gedächtniskirche here in Berlin,” she said. “And yes, it is especially bitter and detestable when terrorist attacks are committed by people who came to our country claiming to seek protection, people whom our country was eager to help for this reason, and who have now made a cruel mockery of this helping spirit through their deeds, just as they make a cruel mockery of those who truly need and deserve our protection.”
Still, the chancellor said, she feels “confidence amidst such deep sorrow and grief for the dead and wounded,” in “our resolute determination to counter the terrorists’ world of hate with our compassion and our cohesion.”
“By going on with our lives and our work, we tell the terrorists: you are murderers filled with hatred, but you will not determine how we live or how we want to live. We are free, compassionate and open,” Merkel said. “And with images in our minds of bombed-out Aleppo in Syria, we have to say once again how important and right it was that during the past year, too, our country helped those in true need of our protection find their footing in Germany and integrate into our society.”
“All of this is reflected in our democracy, in our government based on the rule of law, and in our values. They are the counter-project to the hate-filled world of terrorism, and they will be stronger than terrorism. We together are stronger. Our state is stronger.”
The Christian Democratic Union leader, who has been chancellor since 2005 and is consistently ranked the most powerful woman in the world, told Germans that the country “does everything possible to guarantee security and freedom for its citizens.”
“This work is never finished, and this year we have provided a lot of new support to our security agencies. In 2017, the Federal Government will swiftly initiate and implement the necessary measures wherever political or legal changes are needed,” she vowed.
Eight days ago, Merkel ordered a comprehensive review of Germany’s security apparatus in response to anger over what wasn’t done to stop Tunisian Anis Amri, 24, the market terrorist who had been denied asylum but was still in the country and on security services’ radar at the time of the attack.
“The Amri case raises questions – questions that are not only tied to this crime but also to the time before, since he came to Germany in July 2015” from Italy, she said at the time. “We will now intensively examine to what extent official procedures need to be changed.”
The chancellor added that she had spoken with Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi and told him deportations of rejected asylum seekers would be “significantly” sped up. Amri’s deportation was reportedly delayed because Tunisia would not claim him.
Merkel also took a shot at Brexit in the new year’s address.
“Many people also associate the year 2016 with a feeling that the entire world has fallen to pieces or that things that were long considered to be finished achievements have now been called into question. The European Union, for example. Or even parliamentary democracy, which purportedly does not attend to the interests of citizens, but rather serves to benefit only a few. What distorted pictures,” she said.
“Yes, Europe is slow. It is onerous. It has to weather heavy blows like the departure of one of its member states. And yes, Europe should focus on the things that it can truly do better than a nation state. But no, we Germans should never let ourselves be led to believe that a national solo effort could ever bring us a happy future. Where Europe is challenged as a whole – as it is in global competition, in the protection of our external borders, or regarding migration – it must find a response as a whole, however painstaking and tough this may be. And we Germans have every interest in playing a leading role in this.”
In the new year’s Bundestag election, Merkel said she would “champion a political discourse in which we will debate many things vigorously, but will always do so as democrats who never forget that it is an honor to serve our democracy and thereby to serve the people.”
“Cohesion, openness, our democracy and a strong economy that serves the well-being of all: these are the things that make me confident in our future here in Germany, even at the end of a difficult year,” she said. “None of these values are simply given to us. We will have to work for all of them in 2017 too, all of us together, each contributing to the best of our abilities – and this work will be worth it.”