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Update: ‘We were wrong’ about German spy chief’s promotion: SPD boss Nahles

The leaders in Germany's grand coalition will renegotiate the planned promotion of the former head of the German domestic intelligence agency.

Update: 'We were wrong' about German spy chief's promotion: SPD boss Nahles
Andrea Nahles, SPD leader. Photo: DPA

Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) agreed to renegotiate the future of Hans-Georg Maaßen, former President of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, after a call from SPD leader Andrea Nahles.

Nahles, along with Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) and CSU leader Horst Seehofer, had agreed on Tuesday to sack Maaßen as head of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution. But as part of the deal he was promised a position as secretary of state in the Interior Ministry.

“The Chancellor considers it right and appropriate to reassess the issues at stake and to find a viable joint solution,” government spokesman Steffen Seibert said on Friday.

Meanwhile, Seehofer also said later on Friday that he would not rule out a new consultation with Merkel and Nahles about the Maaßen case.

“I think a renewed consultation makes sense if a mutual solution is possible. This is now being considered,” Seehofer told the DPA on Friday.

The decision was sparked after Maaßen gave comments in a newspaper interview on xenophobic incidents in Chemnitz. He had questioned the authenticity of amateur video footage, seemingly contradicting Merkel, and was also accused of having questionable links to the far-right.

There was a huge resistance to the deal within the Social Democrats (SPD), with former party leader Sigmar Gabriel calling the move to transfer Maaßen as “crazy”. 

Deputy SPD chairman Ralf Stegner also challenged the grand coalition, saying patience among SPD member was “extremely thin”.

“I am of the opinion that the leaders of the coalition should meet again to discuss the important but very different concerns of the coalition partners,” Nahles wrote in a letter to Merkel and Seehofer, which was initially reported by Spiegel Online.

The SPD leader successfully pushed for Maaßen’s dismissal, whose suitability in the fight against far-right extremism was doubted by the party.

Federal Interior Minister Seehofer, who, unlike Merkel and Nahles, supported Maaßen, planned to take him in return for the position of SPD State Secretary in his ministry. 

Seehofer emphasized that he wanted Maaßen’s expertise in the fight against terrorism. On Thursday he praised Maaßen as a “competent, honest employee”.

With his headstrong decision, however, the CSU leader brought the SPD into severe turbulence – there were demands at the grassroots level to end the grand coalition.

“The consistently negative reactions from the population show that we were wrong,” Nahles wrote.

“We have lost confidence instead of restoring it,” she said. “That should be a reason for us to pause together and rethink the appointment.”

The call from Nahles came during a turbulent time in German politics.

On Friday, a poll found that the Alternative for Germany had overtaken the SPD for the first time as the second strongest party in Germany.

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POLITICS

‘Russia must not win this war,’ says Germany’s Scholz

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz pledged once again to stand with Ukraine against Russia - but said Ukraine's bid to join the EU cannot be sped up.

'Russia must not win this war,' says Germany's Scholz

Scholz said the war in Ukraine was the greatest crisis facing the EU in its history, but that solidarity was strong. 

“We are all united by one goal: Russia must not win this war, Ukraine must prevail,” Scholz said in the speech to the Bundestag on Thursday.

Putin thinks he can use bombs to dictate the terms for peace, the SPD politician said. 

“He’s wrong. He was wrong in judging the unity of Ukrainians, and the determination of our alliances. Russia will not dictate peace because the Ukrainians won’t accept it and we won’t accept it.”

Scholz said it was only when Putin understands that he cannot break Ukraine’s defence capability that he would “be prepared to seriously negotiate peace”.

For this, he said, it is important to strengthen Ukraine’s defences. 

Scholz also pledged to help cut Europe free from its reliance on Russian energy. 

The Chancellor welcomed the accession of Finland and Sweden to Nato. “With you at our side, Nato, Europe will become stronger and safer,” he said.

However, Scholz dampened expectations for Ukraine’s quick accession to the EU.

“There are no shortcuts on the way to the EU,” Scholz said, adding that an exception for Ukraine would be unfair to the Western Balkan countries also seeking membership.

“The accession process is not a matter of a few months or years,” he said.

Scholz had in April called for Western Balkan countries’ efforts to join the EU to be accelerated amid a “new era” in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Last October, EU leaders at a summit in Slovenia only reiterated their “commitment to the enlargement process” in a statement that disappointed the six candidates for EU membership — Albania, Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Kosovo – who had hoped for a concrete timetable.

“For years, they have been undertaking intensive reforms and preparing for accession,” Scholz said on Thursday.

“It is not only a question of our credibility that we keep our promises to them. Today more than ever, their integration is also in our strategic interest,” he said.

The chancellor said he would be attending the EU summit at the end of May “with the clear message that the Western Balkans belong in the European Union”.

Scholz also called for other ways to help Ukraine in the short term, saying the priority was to “concentrate on supporting Ukraine quickly and pragmatically”.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron has also said it will take “decades” for a candidate like Ukraine to join the EU, and suggested building a broader political club beyond the bloc that could also include Britain.

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