Germany’s domestic spy chief was forced from his post this week following allegations that he was harboring far-right sympathies. Lucky for him, though, he was given a new job — and a raise.
Hans-Georg Maassen was ousted late Tuesday, but the news didn't end the political storm over his fate after it emerged he was effectively given a promotion to a better-paid role in the Interior Ministry. Lawmakers across the political spectrum condemned the move Wednesday, calling it a compromise that showed the government was not taking concerns about far-right extremism seriously.
“The so-called agreement on Maassen is a joke,” Florian Post, a lawmaker for the Social Democratic Party (SPD), told German media. “Either the man is fit to hold high office or he isn't.”
Maassen had been serving as the chief of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, a domestic intelligence agency which monitors extremist organizations. Widespread calls for his resignation rose after he questioned the authenticity of a viral video from violent anti-immigration protests in the eastern city of Chemnitz last month, which appeared to show a group of men chasing down migrants.
Maassen said his agency had “no reliable information about such hunts taking place” in Chemnitz, and suggested the video, posted by an anti-fascist group, could have been disinformation — without giving any supporting evidence.
Critics slammed the comments, which contradicted Chancellor Angela Merkel’s acknowledgment of the xenophobic nature of the unrest, for downplaying the seriousness of far-right violence in Chemnitz. Large anti-immigration protests, with violent, extremist elements, broke out in the eastern city last month following the fatal stabbing of a local man in a confrontation with migrants. Similar protests broke out a few weeks later in the eastern town of Koethen, where a man died following a dispute with two Afghan migrants.
Maassen was also criticized for sharing sensitive information about security priorities with the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party — a group that critics want Maassen’s agency to monitor as an extremist organization for its role in fueling the anti-migrant unrest.
The fight over Maassen’s future has divided Merkel’s fractious coalition government, with the center-left SPD demanding his resignation, and Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, head of the conservative Christian Social Union, insisting he would resign if the spy chief was forced out.
The compromise, which will see Maassen take up a new and better-paid position as Secretary of State in the Interior Ministry, was met with widespread scorn — including from SPD politicians.
“Maassen's promotion is only a solution on paper,” Christian Lindner, head of the center-right FDP, said on social media. “Either you trust him or you don't.”
Katrin-Göring Eckardt, parliamentary leader of the Greens, tweeted that the compromise was “an unbelievable fudge.”
“Anyone who rewards rather than sanctioning disloyalty and cozying up to the AfD has lost all sense of what's right and wrong.”
It’s the second time that an immigration issue has threatened the viability of Merkel’s fragile coalition government, which was only cobbled together in March, more than five months after federal elections. In June, Seehofer threw the future of the coalition into doubt with demands for stricter border controls, which were only resolved in a truce the following month.
Cover image: German Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) arrives for a session of the German Parliament or Bundestag on September 13, 2018 in Berlin, Germany. Relations within the governing German coalition have once again become strained, this time due to comments made by German Interior Minister and Bavarian Christian Social Union leader Horst Seehofer following the recent murder of a German by refugees and the ensuing marches by right-wing supporters in the city of Chemnitz. (Photo by Michele Tantussi/Getty Images)