German gov't cancels controversial promotion of ex-intelligence chief Maassen
BERLIN, Sept. 24 (Xinhua) -- The German government has reversed a highly controversial decision to promote an ex-intelligence chief accused of stoking far-right conspiracy theories, the leaders of the ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Christian Social Union (CSU) and German Social Democrats (SPD) parties announced on Sunday night.
Hans-Georg Maassen, the former president of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), will now become a special advisor to interior minister and CSU leader Horst Seehofer where he will receive the same salary as he did before being forced out of his intelligence agency last week.
Earlier, demands by the SPD for Maassen to be sacked after appearing to stoke far-right conspiracy theories resulted in an unusual cabinet compromise by which the ex-BfV president was transferred from his original post to a more senior and better-paid role as secretary of state in the interior ministry.
Rather than resolving the issue, however, the impression that chancellor Angela Merkel's governing cabinet had rewarded a civil servant for wrongdoing immediately provoked outrage among opposition parties and the grassroots membership of the SPD alike.
The incident brought Germany's "grand coalition" to the brink of collapse over the weekend and made yet another emergency cabinet session necessary in which the latest compromise on Maassen was reached.
A previously little-known intelligence chief, Maassen, has found himself at the center of a national controversy for questioning the authenticity of video footage showing right-wing extremists chasing foreigners in Chemnitz.
In doing so, the intelligence agency chief directly contradicted chancellor Merkel and local security officers on the issue, only to backtrack on the public statements again in a subsequent report.
That Maassen was at least temporarily able to secure a surprising promotion from the government is due to the loyal support which he has received from interior minister Seehofer in the affair. Commenting on the widely-publicized far-right mobilizations in Chemnitz, the CSU leader told press that he would have participated in the demonstrations in question as well if he were a regular citizen.
As a consequence, a growing number of senior SPD politicians began to question Seehofer's suitability for his own post as interior minister. SPD vice president Natascha Kohnen has publicly complained that the CSU leader is "completely out of control", while SPD leader Nahles blamed him personally for harming the reputation of the government by insisting on Maassen's already annulled promotion.
According to a recent "Deutschland-Trend" opinion poll, a meagre 28 percent of Germans think that Seehofer is suitable for his role as interior minister, down by 11 percentage points compared to a survey in April. Even among self-declared CDU/CSU supporters, only 31 percent expressed support for Seehofer as the right individual to lead the interior ministry compared to 45 percent in April.
In spite of still unresolved cabinet fractures, the "grand coalition" emphasized its desire on Monday to finally move on from the Maassen affair and return to business as usual. Speaking to press in Berlin, Merkel apologized for what she described as a flawed assessment of the situation by her cabinet.
"The result from last Tuesday (to promote Maassen) was not a persuasive one. I focused too much on functionality and procedures in the interior ministry while not thinking enough about how the people will feel when they hear promotion. I very much regret that this has happened," the CDU leader said.
Merkel argued that the second coalition compromise reached on Maassen was a "satisfactory one." It gave him a "clearly-defined area of tasks", advising Seehofer on asylum policy and joint European Union (EU) social policies at the same paygrade without amounting to an effective promotion for the civil servant.
The chancellor announced that her priority was now to reach an overdue cabinet agreement on whether to require so-called hardware updates from carmakers in the ongoing "dieselgate" scandal. A cabinet session is scheduled to hold discussion towards that end at the start of next week.