Merkel admits mistakes made over German spy boss promotion

In a highly unusual move, Angela Merkel on Monday apologized for the promotion of the head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency.

Merkel admits mistakes made over German spy boss promotion
Angela Merkel at a Berlin press conference on Monday. Photo: DPA

The Chancellor said the decision to sack Hans-Georg Maaßen as head of the Protection of the Constitution (BvF), but then move him into a promoted post in the Interior Ministry with better money “could not convince people”.

During a press conference on Monday, Merkel (CDU) 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 press conference. 

Last week SPD leader Andrea Nahles, who had come under massive pressure from her own party, had admitted that all three leaders of the coalition parties had made a mistake in the appointment.

Merkel had already made it clear on Friday after Nahles' comments that the promotion decision would have to be reassessed.

She said the solution the coalition found for Maaßen, who is now going to be a special advisor to the Interior Ministry, was “appropriate” and was more likely to be seen as reasonable by the public “because it is not a promotion”.

The coalition row was sparked after Maaßen gave a newspaper interview in which he questioned the authenticity of video footage from unrest that flared after a fatal knife attack in Chemnitz, allegedly by asylum seekers.

Merkel deplored the xenophobic scenes that followed, but Maaßen questioned whether any “hunting down” of foreigners had taken place. 

While his comments were cheered by the far right, opposition parties demanded he be fired for meddling in politics.

However CSU leader and Federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer stood by Maaßen, saying he was a “competent, honest employee”.

Moving on 

In Merkel's public address – exactly one year after the Bundestag elections – the Chancellor also said that her government had been too concerned with itself after the long period of coalition building in the past months.

Merkel said the government needed to focus on “solving people’s problems”, and mentioned digitalization, Brexit, the care sector and diesel regulations as issues that needed to be tackled.

She said: “There are many very complicated and important issues that concern people, such as health, care, digitization, but also the UK's imminent departure from the EU.”

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How Germany is reacting to far-right election victory in Italy

While far-right groups have been celebrating, other politicians in Germany see the results as worrying. Here's a look at the reaction.

How Germany is reacting to far-right election victory in Italy

According to initial projections following Italy’s election on Sunday, the coalition led by Georgia Meloni and her radical right-wing Fratelli d’Italia party has won a majority of seats in the two chambers of the Italian parliament and will lead the next government. 

Meloni is a euro-sceptic who has previously spoken about having an “aversion” to Germany and referred to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz as “socialist” while on the campaign trail.

However, Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s deputy spokesman Wolfgang Buechner told reporters on Monday: “We of course have to wait for the official final result from this election but at this time what the chancellor would say is that Italy is a very Europe-friendly country with very Europe-friendly citizens and we assume that won’t change.” 

READ ALSO: What will a far-right government mean for Italy?

A Finance Ministry spokesperson added that Berlin expected the new Italian government to continue to respect the stability pact that sets the fiscal rules for the eurozone.

Despite these reassurances from the central government, German politicians in the EU parliament have expressed concern about the new direction for Italy.  

Rasmus Andresen, spokesman for the German Greens in the EU Parliament, said the “unprecedented Italian slide to the right” will have massive repercussions for Europe and for the European Union.

“Italy, as a founding member and the third strongest economy in the EU, is heading for an anti-democratic and anti-European government.”

Though Meloni no longer wants Italy to leave the eurozone, she has said that Rome must assert its interests more and has policies that look set to challenge Brussels on everything from public spending rules to mass migration.

The Greens’ co-leader in Brussels, Thomas Waitz, told Die Welt that the EU can only function if it sticks together, for example on cooperation in energy markets, decisions on Russian sanctions or dealing with the Covid crisis. “Meloni, on the other hand, would back national go-it-alones. It can be a disaster for Europe,”  he said. 

READ ALSO: Euro falls to 20-year low against US dollar

The FDP’s expert on Europe, Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, takes a similar view. He said on ARD’s Morgenmagazin that cooperation with Italy in the European Union will become more difficult. He said that it will now be much more difficult to achieve unity in Europe, especially on the issues of migration, reform of the Stability and Growth Pact and the single market.

Speaking on RTL, Green Party leader Omid Nouripour called the election results in Italy “worrying” and pointed out that people within the Italian right-wing nationalist alliance have “very close entanglements with the Kremlin”.

“We can’t rule out the possibility that people in Moscow also popped the corks last night,” he said.

Germany’s own far-right party – Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) – has been celebrating the victory. 

AfD member of the Bundestag Beatrix von Storch wrote “We cheer with Italy!” on Twitter late Sunday evening.

Referring to the recent elections in Sweden, where the right was also successful, von Storch wrote: “Sweden in the north, Italy in the south: left-wing governments are so yesterday.”

Her party colleague Malte Kaufmann tweeted, “A good day for Italy – a good day for Europe.”

With reporting from AFP