The political outrage was led by Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, of the Free Democratic Party (FDP), who told Monday’s edition of the Süddeutsche Zeitung, “If this is really true, it would be unacceptable.”
“The work of freely-elected Bundestag representatives cannot be limited by the Verfassungsschutz,” she continued.
The fury came after Der Spiegel magazine revealed on Monday that 27 of the Left party’s 76 Bundestag MPs were being watched by the Verfassungsschutz, as Germany’s domestic intelligence agency is known.
The magazine said the list not only included members of the leftist party’s more radical wing, but several acknowledged moderates, plus nearly all the party’s leaders, including Gregor Gysi, Gesine Lötzsch, and deputy Sahra Wagenknecht.
The agency has been under pressure recently over its handling of neo-Nazi terrorists who were uncovered in the eastern town of Zwickau. “After the series of foul-ups over the Zwickau cell, the Verfassungsschutz should re-think its priorities of its own accord,” said Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger.
Sigmar Gabriel, head of the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), echoed the criticism, saying, “Haven’t they got anything better to do?”
Chancellor Angela Merkel refused to join in the condemnation however, commenting via her spokesman Steffen Seibert, “the ways that a task is fulfilled can always be re-examined to see whether certain measures are appropriate or not.”
Wolfgang Bosbach, Merkel’s party colleague in the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), and head of the parliamentary domestic affairs committee, was less oblique, saying the intelligence agency should justify the surveillance of MPs on a case-by-case basis.
Bosbach told the Mitteldeutsche Zeitung newspaper, “If you hold a communist platform in the party, then you shouldn’t wonder if you are being watched by the Verfassungsschutz.” But he added that membership of the Left party was not enough justification for surveillance.
But German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, of the CDU's Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU), came out in vehement defence of the Verfassungsschutz on Tuesday.
“There are significant indications that the Left party has anti-constitutional tendencies,” he told state broadcaster ZDF, justifying the agency's actions. “That is part of the law, and can’t be changed.”
The Left party has responded to the revelations by calling for the abolition of the domestic intelligence agency, whose German name translates as “Constitution Protection.”
“In its current form, the Verfassungsschutz is not protecting the constitution,” Left leader Lötzsch said on Monday. She said that keeping MPs under surveillance was tantamount to “an attack on the constitution and the free democratic order.”