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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 October 2018

German coalition government in deadlock over fate of intelligence chief

The agency chief and Chancellor Merkel disagreed publicly about the nature of a viral video

Members of the SPD party are calling for Hans-Georg Maassen to be sacked. AP
Members of the SPD party are calling for Hans-Georg Maassen to be sacked. AP

The future of a German intelligence chief’s position has split Germany’s fragile coalition government.

Hans-Georg Maassen has stoked controversy with an intervention on the fraught issue of anti-immigrant protests. After serving as head of the German domestic intelligence agency for six years, Mr Maassen is hanging to his career by a thread. The centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) are calling for the intelligence chief to be sacked and members of the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU) are defending Mr Maassen’s position.

Chancellor Merkel, who leads the biggest party, the Christian Democrat Union, has reportedly also decided Mr Maassen should go but has not yet overcome CSU objections.

In an interview with the Bild newspaper, Mr Maassen directly contradicted the German chancellor’s interpretation of a video purporting to show foreigners being chased by far-right protesters in the city of Chemnitz after the stabbing of a German man.

Through a spokesperson, Ms Merkel said the video was an example of hounding of immigrants, whereas Mr Maassen said the footage may be false and part of a misinformation campaign.

Last Wednesday Mr Maassen was called to the Internal Affairs Committee hearing to explain himself. “He explained comprehensively, and from my point of view convincingly, the way he acted,” Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said.

Ms Merkel’s relationship with her colleague is already under strain due to differing ideas on how the country should respond to the refugee crisis, leading to the pair striking a deal to turn back refugees at the Austrian border in July. This latest disagreement has the potential to break the coalition, which has only been formed for six months.

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Merkel’s junior coalition partners, the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), disagree and want conservative Mr Seehofer to fire Mr Maassen over his remarks, but he has so far refused to do so.

The coalition partners are due to meet on Tuesday to discuss the intelligence chief’s future, despite reporting that the Chancellor has already made up her mind.

“Whoever heads up a security institution in our country must enjoy full confidence and it is clear that this confidence no longer exists and there must be consequences,” SPD member and finance minister Olaf Scholz told reporters last week.

The government has refused to comment on the matter, with Ms Merkel saying on Friday that her grand coalition government would hold strong regardless of Mr Maassen’s future.