Domestic spy chief Maassen forced into new, high-ranking role

Mr. Maassen on the left, though he probably belongs on the right. Source: DPA

The three party leaders of Germany’s coalition government agreed late Tuesday to reassign the country’s chief domestic spy after he made controversial remarks about videos from last month’s riots in Chemnitz.

Hans-Georg Maassen, the head of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, known by its German acronym BfV, will now become a high-ranking official inside the German interior ministry. The change in roles comes with a higher pay grade, according to German media.

A replacement for his post at the BfV has not been named. “Details to the relative responsibilities within the Ministry for the Interior, Construction and Homeland will be presented by Interior Minister Horst Seehofer [Wednesday],” the government said.

The BfV monitors extremist organizations that threaten Germany’s democratic institutions and Mr. Maassen put himself in the coalition’s crosshairs by calling into question the authenticity of videos from anti-immigrant riots that arose after the fatal stabbing of a man in Chemnitz. He has also reportedly slipped BfV intelligence to the populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

Coalition coalescence

Politicians first met last Thursday to discuss Mr. Maassen’s fate but then delayed their decision until Tuesday. German media presented the tussle as another trial for the country’s governing coalition with the left-leaning Social Democrats, or SPD, demanding his resignation and Interior Minister Seehofer saying he had faith in the official. The SPD is part of the governing coalition and Mr. Seehofer is a member of the Christian Socialist Union, or CSU, a conservative Bavarian party allied with Chancellor Merkel’s Christian Democrats, and also part of the coalition government.

Nobody appeared happy with the compromise. Left-leaning politicians wanted Mr. Maassen to wake up unemployed on Wednesday whereas more conservative lawmakers insisted he did nothing wrong.

“That is unbelievable deception,” Katrin Göring-Eckardt, head of the Green party, was quoted as saying by local daily, Die Welt. Anyone who rewards instead of punishing someone who “cuddles” up to the AfD has lost all decency. “And the SPD plays along with everything,“ she said.

The head of parliament’s interior committee and a member of the CSU, Andrea Lindholz, defended Mr. Maassen, saying it was “regrettable” he had to leave his position because of what she described as a communication error. “Today I still have complete faith in the head of the BfV, after detailed explanations [about what he said], just as I did before them,” she said.

Andrew Bulkeley is an editor in Berlin for Handelsblatt Global. To contact the author:

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