The German intelligence chief was dismissed on Tuesday following weeks of criticism for publicly doubting the existence of racist “human hunts” in Chemnitz, as well as suspected complacency towards the far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD).
Following a meeting between the Chancellor and her partners in the Bavarian CSU and the Social Democratic Party (SPD), the government announced that Hans-Georg Maassen would no longer direct domestic intelligence. The 55-year-old official was subsequently appointed Secretary of State at the Ministry of the Interior.
Questions have hung over Maasen since he denied the existence of “collective hunts” of foreigners after protests against migrants organised by the far-right in the Eastern German city of Chemnitz. He stirred controversy when he claimed that a video broadcast on social networks showing xenophobic attacks in Chemnitz were fake, even though the video had been authenticated by the media.
The head of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) has also been accused of being too close to the far-right, anti-immigration AfD and passing on confidential information to the party. An accusation that Maassen has denied.
The intelligence chief was, however, the object of virulent attacks by the other member of the “grand coalition”, the SPD. “Merkel must now clarify the situation of the government. Mr Maassen has to leave, and I tell you that he will leave,” SPD chief Andrea Nahles, who took part in Tuesday’s meeting with Merkel, said over the weekend. For the AfD, on the contrary, Maassen was targeted by “big parties” only because he criticised the government’s migration policy.
On the political front, the crisis around Maassen has been yet another illustration of the Chancellor’s growing political weakness, whose current term as leader is to be her last.
Angela Merkel has been torn between her SPD coalition partners in government, and the CSU which continues to challenge its migration policy. This Bavarian party has its eyes fixed on regional elections scheduled for October 14 in Bavaria in which the conservative party could lose its absolute majority to the AfD.