Germany’s interior ministry, which has taken the lead in dealing with the influx of refugees and combating terrorist threats, is set to receive a record annual increase in its operating budget.
Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière asked for a total of €7.8 billion ($8.3 billion) for the ministry in 2016. That is almost €1.5 billion more than last year – nearly one quarter of the ministry’s total budget and the biggest year-on-year hike ever in any ministry’s budget in Germany, according to Mr. de Maizière.
“That’s unprecedented,” he said, speaking in parliament during a debate preceding the budget vote.
The budget increase was needed both for the current refugee crisis and the heightened threat of terrorism in Europe. A large chunk of the money is earmarked for the federal office for migration and refugees and for improving security forces.
The ministry’s budget was approved by Germany’s lower parliament, the Bundestag, on Tuesday as lawmakers began a series of votes on Germany’s federal budget for the coming year. Over the next three days, the budgets of individual ministries will be debated and voted on. The Bundestag will then take a final vote on the entire 2016 budget on Friday.
Overall, the 2016 budget will set aside an additional €6.1 billion to cover expenditures of the refugee crisis. Some 1 million or more people are expected to arrive in Germany this year, many fleeing the war in Syria but others from Afghanistan and other war-torn or poorer countries.
“Defending the constitutional state at €736 million is not very expensive, but rather efficient.”
Despite an increase in total government spending from €299.1 billion in 2015 to €316.9 billion in 2016, Germany will most likely reach a balanced budget once again next year. Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble was confident in Tuesday’s debate that Germany won’t incur any new debt next year. The “black zero,” as it is known in Germany, is “likely still possible,” Mr. Schäuble said.
And yet, Mr. Schäuble signaled that he is prepared to surrender his balanced budget goal if needed. Commenting on the prospect that Germany might have to take on new debt to pay for the unexpectedly high influx of refugees, Mr. Schäuble said the “refugee crisis takes priority over the black zero,” a term commonly used to refer to a balanced budget in Germany.
The government currently expects tax revenues of €288.08 billion next year, €1.96 billion less than originally thought. Mr. Schäuble expects to be able to make up the nearly €20 billion difference between spending and revenue through savings in the past two years, allowing the federal government to get by without issuing any new debt in 2016.
Within the interior ministry, dealing with the massive refugee influx will be a key priority.
The migration and refugee office, or BAMF, which is in charge of registering refugees arriving in Germany, is supposed to get 4,000 new employees under the budget proposal. The authority, which has been heavily criticized for creating a backlog of refugees unable to seek housing or jobs before being registered, has become “60 percent more efficient since September,” according to Mr. de Maizière.
Another 4,000 new jobs will also be created in the security forces, including federal police that are in charge of securing Germany’s borders. Police units will also get new and better equipment.
To better integrate those refugees that are granted asylum in Germany, the interior minister has earmarked an additional €326 million for integration efforts such as language courses.
“We’ll pay a high price later for any failures in prevention and integration now,” Mr. de Maizière said. “We are also creating more security through prevention and integration,” he added.
Conservative parliamentarian Armin Schuster, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling CDU party, in defending the high spendings of the interior ministry said: “There is a connection between the refugee situation and the terrorism threat. I know it’s delicate to say that, but I’ll say it here.” To contain the terrorism threat, he said, “We have to find out who comes to us from where and for which reason.”
The threat from international terrorism was a dominant theme in Tuesday’s budget debate, the first of four days of deliberations on the government’s budget for next year.
The justice ministry led by Heiko Maas, a member of the Social Democrats, the junior coalition partner in Ms. Merkel’s government, will also receive more money in order to be able to prosecute terrorists better and faster. At €736 million, the ministry, which is responsible for upholding the German constitution, is the one with the smallest budget of all the departments.
According to Mr. Maas, the country’s chief federal prosecutor, which like the Federal Supreme Court falls under the oversight of his ministry, is currently investigating “127 cases [of suspected terrorists] in relation to the civil war in Syria.”
Both authorities will get more funds and personnel under the proposal, “so that cases [against violent jihadists] won’t take longer than necessary,” said SPD parliamentarian Dennis Rohde during the debate. Defending the constitutional state “at €736 million is not very expensive, but rather efficient,” commented Tobias Lindner of the opposition Green party.
Franziska Roscher is an editor at Handelsblatt Global Edition in Berlin. To contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org