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Germany: Maassen Affair Encore

Update, September 23rd, 2018, 9:30 p.m.: The heads of the coalition in Berlin agree on moving Maassen to the Interior Ministry, but not as an undersecretary. Also he will not receive a higher salary in his new position as a special adviser.

You couldn’t make this up: Hans-Georg Maassen, the director of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, recently commented on the events in Chemnitz in an interview. His statements lead to a new crisis in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government coalition.

After two emergency meetings and many discussions behind the scenes, the heads of the coalition parties reached an agreement on the matter. But now the accord is off again, while the government crisis is back on.

Two weeks ago, on September 7th, the German-language ‘Bild’ tabloid printed an interview with Maassen, in which he said he was not so sure foreigners in Chemnitz had been hunted by right-wing extremists. He said the Office for the Protection of the Constitution did not have “reliable information which would confirm that any chase of this kind took place.”

He also commented on a video which showed radical right-wingers hunting people who seemed to be migrants. There was no evidence for the claim according to which the video about this alleged incident was authentic, Maassen said back then, contrary to the opinion voiced by editors of respected German media outlets, who did believe that clip was authentic.

The Social Democrats (SPD), Merkel’s junior coalition partner, wanted Maassen fired because of the statements which they said were inappropriate in his position. On the other hand, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, a member of the ultra-conservative CSU, said he trusted and wanted to keep Maassen.

Within days, the Maassen question became existential for the coalition, meaning the SPD was ready to pull out in case the matter was not resolved. Two emergency meetings at the Chancellery in Berlin followed, the first of which did not lead to anything.

After the second meeting on September 18th, the three participants, Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU), Minister Horst Seehofer (CSU), and the SPD’s chairlady Andrea Nahles, announced an agreement according to which Hans-Georg Maassen was supposed to change posts. They agreed to move him from the Office for the Protection of the Constitution to the Ministry of the Interior, where he was supposed to become an undersecretary.

Then, the next problem arose. The SPD was angered about the fact that the respected undersecretary Gunther Adler, an SPD member, was supposed to be pensioned off in order to make room for Maassen. Furthermore, harsh criticism within the SPD came up. In Merkel’s CDU many did not agree with the so-called compromise either.

Andrea Nahles now triggered the encore. She reacted to the criticism by saying the matter needed to be back on the agenda and revised. “The three of us were mistaken”, she said on Friday evening. The way Maassen had been dealt with was not “communicable”, Nahles conceded. According to German-language media reports, Angela Merkel agrees with her.

Now the Maassen matter is back on the table. And again it has become what the Germans call a “coalition question”, meaning the government coalition might break apart faster than anyone could say the word “compromise”. Over the weekend, new discussions will be held.

Andrea Nahles now seems determined not to sell out the SPD’s position, not even by an inch. Last week, she reportedly rejected two proposals by Seehofer. He wanted to make Maassen head of the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), which is the German equivalent of the F.B.I. in the United States. In return, the BKA’s current director Holger Münch would have assumed Maassen’s position at the Office for the Protection of the Constitution. Nahles rejected this swapping deal.

Seehofer’s second proposal was to make Maassen his appointee for security and international cooperation. Nahles did not like that solution either, but she did agree to the undersecretary solution at first, which would have rewarded Maassen with an even higher position and salary.

Some conservatives, especially those who are facing federal state elections next month, are not happy. One of them is the governor of the province of Hesse, Volker Bouffier, who is one of Merkel’s CDU men. “The grand coalition will only endure if we understand that these arguments have to end.”

It looks like Bouffier will not get his way. Germany is sliding into yet another political crisis.