Ex-German spy chief under pressure over far-right leanings

Calls to expel Hans-Georg Maassen from centre-right opposition party

Hans-Georg Maassen (C), President of the domestic intelligence service of the Federal Republic of Germany (Bundesamt fuer Verfassungsschutz, BfV), arrives for a hearing in front of a parliamentary control panel on September 12, 2018 in Berlin. - Secret services typically work away from the limelight, but Germany's top domestic spy Hans-Georg Maassen has repeatedly crashed into the public eye, with his latest outing pitting him directly against Chancellor Angela Merkel. (Photo by Odd ANDERSEN / AFP)
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A former German spy chief jockeying for influence in Berlin faces possible expulsion from his party over what it called his embrace of far-right language and conspiracy theories.

Hans-Georg Maassen is running to lead a hard-right faction of Germany’s main opposition party, the Christian Democratic Union, which nominated him in a failed bid to become an MP in 2021.

He has become an increasing embarrassment to the party after raging against migration, alleging a range of left-wing conspiracies, sowing doubts about vaccines and recently speaking of “racism against white people”.

The CDU’s general secretary Mario Czaja said on Tuesday that Mr Maassen should resign from the party amid calls for a formal disciplinary process.

He said Mr Maassen was moving closer to the far-right Alternative for Germany party, which has come under surveillance by the domestic intelligence agency he used to lead.

“Again and again he uses the language of anti-Semites and conspiracy theorists,” said Mr Czaja.

“His constant provocations do not have any purpose except to promote his own ego. He has increasingly become a burden to the CDU. There is no place in our party for his language or the ideology behind it.”

It comes a day after terror charges were announced against five people accused of plotting to kidnap a senior minister as part of a plan to reinstate the former German Reich.

Mr Maassen has played down the threat of right-wing extremism despite two alleged plots to overthrow the state. AFP

Prosecutors claimed the suspects had acquired weapons, were willing to kill and planned to fake an announcement by Germany’s president or chancellor announcing the end of its postwar democracy.

It was the second such case in two months involving the far-right scene. Mr Maassen has played down its threat and was accused of failing to address it while head of the intelligence agency from 2012 to 2018.

He was demoted from that role in 2018 after suggesting that footage of migrants being harassed in the streets by far-right protesters was fake or overblown.

The CDU’s latest effort to distance itself from Mr Maassen comes after he said in an interview that migrants were being welcomed to Germany because of “racial teaching that sees white people as an inferior race”.

“When politicians and opinion writers claim there is no racism against white people or Germans, that means political persecution of white people on racial grounds is permitted,” he said.

Mr Maassen said on Monday that he was the victim of a smear campaign and still hoped to be elected leader of the CDU’s right-wing “values union” in a vote on Saturday.

His platform includes opposing “any kind of eco-socialism and gender wokery” in the CDU.

“There is clearly a fear in parts of the political and media establishment that the values union will become a lively and noticeable political force, under my leadership, that will call for political change. That fear is justified,” he said.

The CDU suffered its worst-ever election result in 2021, losing power after former Chancellor Angela Merkel’s 16-year term. It currently leads polls amid criticism of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s handling of the war in Ukraine.

Updated: January 24, 2023, 1:00 PM