public outcry

Berlin rescinds domestic spy chief Maassen's promotion

FILE PHOTO: German Chancellor Merkel and Maassen, president of BfV, federal domestic intelligence service, leave BfV’s headquarters following their meeting in Cologne
Mr. Maassen and Ms. Merkel in happier days. Source: Reuters

Germany’s fractious coalition government on Sunday backpedaled from a Tuesday decision to promote Hans-Georg Maassen to a high-ranking spot in the interior ministry and away from his position atop the country’s domestic intelligence agency. A public outcry against the personnel move forced the leaders of the Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats (CDU), the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) and Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU) to revisit the issue.

Mr. Maassen first landed in hot water by publicly parroting a popular right-wing theory that a video showing protestors violently pursuing foreigners in Chemnitz in August had been faked. His agency, the head of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, informally known as the BfV, has also appeared to have been soft on the populist, far-right Alternative for Germany party (AfD) party.

Ms. Merkel said the initial agreement that would have promoted Mr. Maassen was a mistake. “I very much regret it. We thought about it a lot together over the weekend and reached a new result,” she said.

Opposition glee

Critics of Mr. Maassen’s promotion argued that he should have been fired, not promoted, and SPD members threatened to use administrative procedures to thwart the move. Mr. Maassen will now instead become a special adviser to Interior Minister Horst Seehofer with no increase in pay and fewer responsibilities.

Sunday’s compromise may be a temporary solution, but the row has again highlighted the coalition’s fragility and the weakness of all the party leaders. Ms. Merkel’s command is now so diminished that she can no longer impose her will on an insubordinate interior minister, and cannot fire an agency chief who publicly defies her.

Ms. Merkel admitted the coalition has spent too much time focusing on itself and said the three leaders agreed to call a special coalition comittee, which will meet next Monday to get the focus back on lawmaking rather than internal bickering.

The head of the SPD, Andrea Nahles, was never particularly popular in her party and squandered political capital by agreeing to the initial deal. But Mr. Seehofer is also under pressure. In three weeks, his CSU party faces Bavarian regional elections. Traditionally the state’s dominant political force, it seems likely to lose its absolute majority, partly due to a surge in support for the AfD.

Dana Heide is a political correspondent for Handelsblatt in Berlin. Jan Hildebrand leads Handelsblatt’s financial policy coverage from Berlin and is deputy managing editor of Handelsblatt’s Berlin office. Martin Greive is a correspondent for Handelsblatt based in Berlin. Brían Hanrahan is an editor for Handelsblatt Global based in Mexico City. To contact the authors: heide@handelsblatt.com, hildebrand@handelsblatt.com, greive@handelsblatt.com

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