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The deep fall of Hans-Georg Maaßen – EURACTIV.com

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The chief of Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution. Hans-Georg Maaßen, will have to take his leave, in a potentially unsettling development for Germany’s struggling ruling coalition. Chancellor Angela Merkel wants to let him go. EURACTIV Germany reports.

This information was reported on Monday (17 September) by the German daily newspaper “Die Welt”, quoting government circles. The German government did not want to comment on the media reports so far. The Cabinet wants to discuss the matter on Tuesday morning.

If Merkel opposes Maaßen, she could provoke a new and significant confrontation with Interior Minister Horst Seehofer and question the continued existence of the coalition as well as the parliamentary group of the ruling CDU/CSU. That could be the lesser evil as it is about confidence in the state security structure.

Coalition dispute inevitable

In any case, a new, violent coalition dispute, including the risk of fracture, could not have been prevented in connection with Maaßen. The fronts between the interior minister and the coalition partner SPD were already hardened.

While Seehofer appeared at a press conference after the hearing in the Interior Committee of the German Bundestag together with Maaßen and rejected the resignation demands from the opposition, the SPD had decided: Maaßen must go!

The dispute was caused by Maaßen’s controversial statements in an interview with “Bild”, in which he suggested that there have been no hunts on migrants in Chemnitz, eastern Germany. Instead, he blamed manipulative media reports that were meant to distract from the previous murder of a German by an Iraqi and a Syrian.

Maaßen was not only the backbone of the Chancellor, who had previously talked about hunts. At the same time, he put wind in the sails of AfD, Pegida and other anti-immigrant groups. All this might have been justifiable if Maaßen had been able to substantiate his comments.

That is what the inner committee was about: Can he prove his claims? He could not. Instead, he half-heartedly rowed back.

For the SPD it was clear that the head of constitutional protection could no longer stay on. In an unusually self-confident manner, the small coalition partner began to demand his resignation. SPD-leader Andrea Nahles left as little doubt as the party’s secretary general, Lars Klingbeil, that the Social Democrats resolutely represent their position and are not ready to give in.

With permanent conflicts about migration policy since 2015, it is obvious that Merkel would rather dupe Seehofer than risking to alienate the SPD. In the last few years, the Chancellor has experienced attacks mainly from within her own ranks. Her biggest adversary was all too often proved to be the interior minister.

Once, Seehofer spoke in connection with Merkel’s refugee policy of a wrong-wing state, sabotaged her efforts to find a solution at the European level, publicly made no secret that he no longer wants to work with Merkel and constantly heated the debate with new demands and provocative statements on refugees.

By contrast, the SPD has been openly committed to the Chancellor’s refugee policy since 2015 and acts loyally. The political dividing lines in Germany these days are not between conservatives and social democrats.

The question of migration dominates the entire discourse and the boundaries run between welcome culture and isolation. This dividing line runs also across the Union (of CDU and CSU).

It’s about trust (in the state)

But with the Maaßen matter, it is about much more than only the fate of the head of constitutional protection, the interior minister or even the Chancellor. It is about confidence in the security structure of the Federal Republic of Germany.

That Maaßen apparently no longer enjoys the trust of the entire government should already have caused him to resign. That would probably have been more elegant than what is happening now.

But more alarming than the critical attitude of the SPD is the sinking confidence of the citizens in the Office for the Protection of the Constitution. Only 38% of respondents in the latest ZDF Politbarometer stated that they had “great confidence” in Maaßens authority – for German conditions, a very low value. At the same time, police got 81% of the vote while 58% of the respondents said they trust in the courts.

The bad numbers are not surprising. The authority has gone through too many scandals since Maaßen took office in 2012. The list ranges from the disclosure of confidential data to the US intelligence service NSA to verbal attacks on the US whistle-blower Edward Snowden (Maaßen: “traitors”) and false statements in connection with the monitoring of the terrorist of Berlin, Anis Amri, to allegations of too close proximity to the AfD.

Already in earlier years, the authority had largely ruined its reputation in connection with the murders of the “National Socialist Resistance” (NSU).

If the Chancellor drops Maaßen now, she might just pull the rip cord in time. The greatest threat to democracy in Europe today is coming from racists. Not only because they know how to use the displeasure of many citizens for their own purposes and record unimaginable electoral successes until a few years ago. But above all, because they manage to eat into the structures of the state.

A state in which officials illegally publish arrest warrants and names, and in which the Office for the Protection of the Constitution is suspected of condoning extremist right-wing structures and of “consulting” right-wing parties so they can avoid surveillance, does not give the impression of being able to successfully defend itself against such developments.

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Hans-Georg Maassen: A controversial career | All media content | DW

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Maassen gained notoriety in 2002 while working for the German Interior Ministry and arguing that Murat Kurnaz, a German resident held in the US prison at Guantanamo for five years before being released, could not return to Germany because his residency had lapsed. Herta Däubler-Gmelin, who was justice minister at the time, called Maassen's argument, "false, appalling and inhumane."

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Angela Merkel admits mistakes in row over spy chief | News | DW

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Angela Merkel conceded that the coalition's decision to remove ex-intelligence chief Hans-Georg Maassen from his post only to reward him with a higher-paid job, and effectively, a promotion to a post in the Interior Ministry "could not convince people."

In an unprecedented move, she admitted that she had been too focused on the "proceedings in the Interior Ministry" and had not paid enough attention to "what people are rightly preoccupied with when they hear about a promotion."

"I'm sorry that we allowed that to happen," she said at a news conference. 

She stressed that the solution the coalition found for Maassen, who is now going to be a consultant to the Interior Ministry, was "appropriate" and was more likely to be seen as reasonable by the public "precisely because it is not a promotion."

DW political correspondent Simon Young said the admission "should help calm things down, as it is not very often that the chancellor comes out to make a public apology."

  • BfV President Hans-Georg Maaßen (picture-alliance/dpa/R. Hirschberger)

    Hans-Georg Maassen: A controversial career

    Shadowy figure

    Hans-Georg Maassen, the head of Germany's Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) — the domestic intelligence service — is no stranger to controversy. Calls for him to step down have been a constant throughout his long career in the intelligence community.

  • Detainee at the US prison at Guantanamo (picture-alliance/dpa/R. Schmidt)

    Hans-Georg Maassen: A controversial career

    Trouble in the Interior Ministry

    Maassen gained notoriety in 2002 while working for the German Interior Ministry and arguing that Murat Kurnaz, a German resident held in the US prison at Guantanamo for five years before being released, could not return to Germany because his residency had lapsed. Herta Däubler-Gmelin, who was justice minister at the time, called Maassen's argument, "false, appalling and inhumane."

  • BfV President Hans-Georg Maassen (picture-alliance/dpa/S. Pilick)

    Hans-Georg Maassen: A controversial career

    Vows to restore trust

    In 2012, Maassen was tapped to lead Germany's top spy agency. He promised to restore faith in the BfV, which was embroiled in controversy over its entanglement in the right-wing extremist scene and his predecessor's decision to destroy files related to the neo-Nazi NSU murders.

  • BfV President Hans-Georg Maassen (picture-alliance/dpa/R. Hirschberger)

    Hans-Georg Maassen: A controversial career

    First calls for firing

    Maassen has been accused of having "a troubled relationship with basic democratic principles" for his pursuit of bloggers on grounds of treason and trying to suppress negative stories on the BfV. In January 2017, he told parliament reports the BfV had undercover agents in the Islamist scene connected to the Berlin Christmas market attack were false. Records showing it did became public in 2018.

  • BfV President Hans-Georg Maaßen in Berlin (picture-alliance/dpa/K. Nietfeld)

    Hans-Georg Maassen: A controversial career

    Sympathies for the right?

    Before Maassen made headlines by questioning the veracity of videos of right-wing protestors chasing foreigners through the streets of Chemnitz, he was under fire for advising right-wing populist party Alternative for Germany (AfD) on how to avoid scrutiny from his agency. Now he is accused of sharing confidential documents with the AfD before presenting them to the public.

    Author: Jon Shelton


Back to work 

Merkel also said the coalition needed to focus on "solving people's problems" as "we have been too preoccupied with ourselves in many areas." 

"That has got to change," she added, citing Brexit, digitalization, the care sector and diesel regulations as some of the issues that need to be tackled.

Maassen made headlines earlier this month when he called into question the veracity of footage showing far-right sympathizers chasing people in the eastern city of Chemnitz. Shortly thereafter, he was criticized over reports that he had passed sensitive information about Islamic extremism to the populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

Despite this, his boss, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer stood behind him, marking the latest in a series of conflicts between the Bavarian conservative and Merkel.

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Germany: Spy chief crisis averted, but for how long?

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hans-georg maaßen - Google Search

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Germany: Merkel's coalition solves spymaster dispute that rattled government | World news

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Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition resolved a dispute over Germany’s scandal-tainted spymaster on Sunday, ending a crisis that had prompted concerns the six-month-old government could fall apart.

The three coalition parties had agreed on Tuesday to transfer spy chief Hans-Georg Maaßen to the Interior Ministry following accusations that he harboured far-right views. Maaßen had questioned the authenticity of video footage showing radicals hounding migrants in the eastern city of Chemnitz.

But their decision sparked public outrage because the senior post they picked for Maaßen came with a pay rise. Some members of the Social Democrats (SPD) – the junior partner in Merkel’s coalition – had called for their party to quit the alliance if the decision was not revoked.

The deal unravelled on Friday when Andrea Nahles, leader of the centre-left SPD, said it was a mistake. A poll published on Thursday had shown 72% of voters had less confidence in the government after the clumsy compromise.

After a meeting between the party leaders on Sunday to hammer out a new compromise, interior minister Horst Seehofer said they had agreed Maaßen would work in the interior ministry in future but would not receive a pay rise.

Seehofer said Maaßen would be a special advisor focusing on European and international tasks. Before the meeting some SPD members had insisted that Maaßen should not be responsible for security or migration issues in his new role.

Seehofer said the decision about pay was a response to the heavy public criticism of the initial plan, but insisted the coalition had not been at risk of falling apart over the affair.

After the coalition’s third crisis meeting in 10 days, SPD leader Nahles said in a statement: “The coalition will now dedicate itself to daily business again. We have a lot to do.“

The dispute over Maaßen comes just two months after Merkel ended a painful row with Seehofer’s Bavarian CSU over immigration.

And the coalition is still divided over how to tackle the problem of diesel cars with high nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions. A government source said the coalition committee would meet on 1 October to discuss issues including diesel.

An Emnid poll had Saturday showed combined support for Merkel’s CDU and Seehofer’s Christian Social Union (CSU) slumping to a record low of 28%, while the far-right Alternative for Germany – which has backed Maaßen – was at 16%, just behind the SPD on 17%.

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