Chancellor Angela Merkel admitted yesterday she had misjudged her response to allegations of far-right sympathies against Germany's spymaster, after resolving a row over his redeployment that threatened to pull her government apart. BfV intelligence agency head Hans-Georg Maassen's political views came under the microscope this month after he questioned the authenticity of video footage showing radicals hounding migrants in the eastern city of Chemnitz.
Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), their Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) sister party and the third coalition partner, the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), agreed last week to transfer Maassen to a senior role in the Interior Ministry. But that prompted a public backlash when it emerged that Maassen would also get a pay rise. The coalition rescinded the hike on Sunday, after some members of the SPD called for their party to quit the alliance if it stayed in place.
"I focused too much on functionality and processes in the interior ministry and not enough on what moves people, rightly, when they hear of someone's promotion," Merkel told reporters, a year to the day after an inconclusive national election consigned the country to six months of political limbo. "I regret very much that that was allowed to happen... It is important that we now solve the problems of the people."
The dispute had irritated Germans worried about more immediate issues such as rising real estate prices, prospects for pensions and a diesel emissions scandal, and frustrated authorities in Brussels used to Berlin playing a lead role in major euro zone issues. It also added to doubts over whether the ruling parties, weakened after all losing ground in last autumn's election, can hold together for a full four-year term.
The clumsy compromise over Maassen, who has not commented in public about the allegations against him, unraveled on Friday when SPD leader Andrea Nahles said it was a mistake. A poll last week showed that 72 percent of voters had less confidence in the government as a result. Support for all three parties has fallen since the election and there is little appetite among them for another ballot that polls suggest would strengthen the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. In June, the coalition tottered as Merkel and Seehofer — a conservative ally but a persistent critic of her initially welcoming approach to large numbers of migrants in 2015 — sparred for weeks over whether to turn back small numbers of asylum-seekers at the German-Austrian border. The CSU has toughened its line on the issue before a regional election in Bavaria next month in which it faces a tough challenge from the anti-immigration AfD.Germany faces two major state elections next month — in Bavaria on Oct. 14 and in neighboring Hesse Oct. 28. The former in particular has been fueling tensions, with Seehofer's CSU polling badly and speculation rife that a poor result could threaten his political future.