The German cabinet was set for a crunch meeting on Tuesday on the fate of the country’s domestic intelligence agency chief the day after the chancellor, Angela Merkel, reportedly decided he had waded too far into day-to-day politics with his controversial remarks on far-right violence.
The embattled head of the BfV agency, Hans-Georg Maaßen, has faced calls for his resignation after he questioned the authenticity of video footage showing far-right protesters chasing migrants in Chemnitz.
Die Welt, which cited government sources, said on Monday that Merkel viewed Maaßen’s position as untenable. It added her decision would stand regardless of the reaction of Maaßen’s direct superior, the interior minister, Horst Seehofer. The German government has declined to comment.
Maaßen came under fire after he contradicted Merkel’s description of a far-right protest in the eastern town. Merkel’s spokesman referred to the scenes as a Hetzjagd, or hounding of migrants. Maaßen, speaking to the Bild, said he had seen no evidence such events had taken place.
The Maaßen row has underscored the fault lines in Merkel’s ruling coalition. Merkel’s rebellious interior minister, who heads the Bavarian-based Christian Social Union (CSU), was quick to throw his weight behind Maaßen, while her junior partner, the left-wing Social Democrats (SPD), have repeatedly said he must go.
Last week, top politicians including Seehofer, and the Social Democrat leader, Andrea Nahles, failed to agree on the BfV chief’s future at a protracted meeting at Merkel’s office in Berlin. They were scheduled to reconvene on Tuesday. Media pundits have deemed Merkel’s failure to fire Maaßen as a sign of weakness.
According to Die Welt, Maaßen told a group of conservative politicians last Thursday that “Horst Seehofer told me that if I fall, he will then fall too.”
But the SPD and opposition parties have made demands for Maaßen to end his six-year stint at the top of BfV, or the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution. “I can no longer trust him,” said Nahles, adding that protecting the constitution meant protecting democracy.
She criticised Maaßen’s comments as downplaying violent incidents in Chemnitz, which were reported and filmed by many witnesses. “Whoever makes himself an ally of rightwing conspiracy theories is out of place as the head of the office for constitutional protection.”
Maaßen’s doubts about the extent of racism and violence in Chemnitz chime with comments by the anti-immigrant Alternative für Deutschland party. Alexander Gauland has accused Merkel of spreading “fake news”.
Merkel and Seehofer have separately insisted that the coalition government would not crumble over the Maaßen issue.