German lawmakers on Thursday approved a partial ban on the full Islamic veil of the burqa and a set of security measures aimed at preventing extremist attacks.
The new laws follow several jihadist attacks, including a truck rampage at a Berlin Christmas market that left 12 people dead, and precede the September elections.
The new face covering law falls short of a total ban on public places demanded by right-wing parties, like the one in force in neighboring France since 2011.
The ban will apply to officials – including election, military and judicial officials – in the performance of their duties.
“The state has a duty to present itself in an ideologically and religiously neutral”, specifies the text of the law voted by the lower house in the evening.
Germany has hosted more than a million migrants and refugees since 2015, most of them from predominantly Muslim countries.
This stoked a xenophobic backlash and spurred the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany party, which attempted to link the influx to an increased threat of terrorism.
Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière said that the social integration of immigrants requires “that we clarify and communicate our values and the limits of our tolerance towards other cultures”.
The ban on full face coverings allows exceptions – for example, for health workers protecting themselves from infections or for police officers to conceal their identity.
People may also be required to remove face covers to match their identity papers.
The new security measures also include the use of electronic ankle bracelets, if approved by a judge, for those considered a security threat, in federal police matters, such as known Islamic radicals considered to be potentially violent by the security services.
Another law paves the way for national and state police forces to pool their data into a new integrated IT system.
As part of another new measure, Germany will implement EU rules on the exchange of air passenger data to fight terrorism and serious crime.
And physical assaults on the police, emergency services and serving soldiers will now be punished more severely, up to five years in prison.
The reforms follow the December 19 truck attack in Berlin claimed by the Islamic State group. The suspect, a 24-year-old Tunisian national, Anis Amri, was shot dead four days later by Italian police.
The Amri case sparked public anger after it emerged that he was already in the crosshairs of the security services and should have been returned long ago to Tunisia, which for months refused to take him.
National and state police and security services monitored Amri for months, knowing that he had used multiple identities and addresses and had been in contact with radical Islamists.