November 5, 2018 / 9:44 AM / 10 months ago

Loose cannon spy reopens German coalition row

BERLIN, Nov 5 (Reuters) - German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer faced renewed calls on Monday to dismiss the outgoing head of domestic intelligence from a new advisory role, threatening to re-open a rift which Angela Merkel’s fractious coalition had only just patched up.

Seehofer once before rescued chief spy Hans-Georg Maassen from dismissal when his remarks about violence against migrants in the eastern city of Chemnitz drew accusations that he held anti-immigration views. This time, Maassen is alleged to have made disparaging remarks about a governing party.

The recriminations follow bruising setbacks for all three parties in Merkel’s coalition in crucial regional votes over the past month. The poor results prompted Merkel to resign as head of the Christian Demcorats (CDU) and many are calling for the loveless alliance to end.

Seehofer is also facing calls to quit as head of his Christian Social Union (CSU) after it lost its majority in last month’s Bavarian regional election, as well as renewed pressure over Maassen.

In September, Maassen, charged with monitoring extremist threats to Germany’s constitutional order, used an interview in Germany’s top-selling tabloid Bild to question the authenticity of a video showing rightwing extremists hounding immigrants in the eastern city of Chemnitz.

He faced a storm of criticism, especially from within the Social Democrats (SPD), junior partner to Merkel’s conservatives, many of whom accused him of harbouring right-wing populist sympathies.

He was only saved from sacking after Seehofer, an immigration hard-liner, intervened to create an alternative senior post for him in his ministry, allowing him to bow out gracefully.

But the row was reopened when multiple German media reported that Maassen had used a farewell address to his colleagues at other European intelligence agencies to criticise the SPD as being full of “radical left” elements who wanted to bring down the government.

“Mr. Seehofer must take a swift decision,” regarding Maassen’s future, SPD general secretary Lars Klingbeil told public television on Monday. “The tone that permeates this speech - that’s not appropriate.”

The Interior Ministry said Seehofer would make a decision on Maassen after an investigation into the speech was complete. Seehofer has previously said that if Maassen went, so would he. But his patronage may mean less than it did.

The CSU is fuming after he led it to its weakest result in years. On Sunday, the party that has for decades dominated cultural and economic life in Germany’s richest region, was forced to concede the economy, education and environment ministries to the Free Voters, its new upstart coalition partner. (Reporting by Thomas Escritt Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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