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German Christian Democrats vote to expel spy agency ex-boss

February 13, 2023

Hans-Georg Maassen ran Germany's domestic intelligence agency for years. He's since tried to move into politics. But his contentious views mean the CDU leadership want to expel him from the party. He could still appeal.

Hans-Georg Maassen, file photo from 2021.
Hans-Georg Maasen's politics were already in question as he departed his job with the state security apparatus in 2018Image: Martin Schutt/dpa/picture alliance

Leading members of the German center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) voted unanimously on Monday to expel former domestic intelligence agency chief Hans-Georg Maassen from the party. 

CDU leader Friedrich Merz told reporters in Berlin that the deliberations were complete within 10 minutes, and that nobody had opposed the proposal. 

The party had last week issued Maassen with a demand to go willingly by February 5, or face expulsion. 

Merz said that from the point of view of the party, the decision was effective immediately and Maassen was now no longer a member.

However, as a prominent past case with a German Social Democrat showed around a decade ago, the case could potentially drag on for years if Maassen exercises his right to appeal. 

Why is the CDU trying to kick Maassen out? 

Maassen has courted controversy for several reasons in recent years, but his heightened political activity since leaving Germany's state security apparatus has brought the issue to more of a head. 

Against the wishes of the party at the national level, he was able to run for election as a CDU candidate on a local level as a direct candidate in 2021's federal elections in Thuringia, but did not win the seat. 

The CDU leadership accuses him of using racist language, particularly when describing what he calls "anti-German" or anti-white" racism in Germany.

Maassen in a tweet he published in mid-January this year, he wrote that one of "the driving forces in the political media sphere" was "eliminatory racism against whites."

He is also accused of repeating antisemitic tropes.

Merz described the decision to expel Maassen as "unavoidable" and said the party had drawn a "clear divide" between it and him. 

"We are conservative, we are liberal, we are Christian-social — but we are not of the radical right, and we are not comparable with the Alternative for Germany [AfD], not at any point. And that's why the firewall must be erected at this point," Merz said. 

Merz also said that support for the so-called Werte Union ("Values Union") was incompatible with CDU support.

The group, chaired by Maassen but disavowed by the Christian Democrats, describes itself as a "grassroots movement within the CDU/CSU," saying 85% of its members are CDU/CSU party members who disagree with the party's current stance.

What did Maassen do when he was an intelligence head?

Maassen was brought in to clean up the image of the domestic intelligence agency, the BfV (or the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution), after a long-running far-right terrorist campaign was unmasked in Germany and the agency's ties to the right-wing extremist scene — often via embedded but uncontracted informants — came to light as a result. 

But similar later scandals would go on to plague his tenure. He told parliament in 2017 that the BfV did not have such informants within Germany's Islamist scene who were connected to the Berlin Christmas market attack. In 2018, records showing that the agency did have informants connected to the 2016 terror attack went public. 

He would later land in hot water when appearing to question the accuracy of videos of right-wing protesters chasing foreigners through the streets of Chemnitz in 2018, and for advising members of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party on how to avoid facing investigation as a possible security threat by his agency. He was ultimately forced out of the job in 2018. 

Is this likely to be the end of the story? 

Forcing him out of the CDU might not prove as simple as a party leadership vote. 

Should Maassen choose to, he could appeal the decision at a special court in Erfurt, in the eastern state of Thuringia where he is a member and where he ran last election cycle. Should he lose, his legal options would not be exhausted.

Perhaps the most prominent German politician to face a process like this in recent years was a Social Democrat (SPD) economist, Thilo Sarrazin, formerly a board member of Germany's Bundesbank central bank.

He went on to write books critical of multiculturalism and of Germany's relatively open migration policies that the center-left party found incompatible with its policies.

It took the SPD three attempts and about 10 years to successfully eject Sarrazin. The party's first vote comparable to Monday's took place in September 2010; Sarrazin was formally gone by July 2020.

Merz was asked about this prospect on Monday, and about whether a lengthy legal battle might also hurt the CDU. 

"It does not have to. That is up to him," Merz said of Maassen. 

In the past, Maassen said he would wait for the CDU to provide more details on its reasoning for his expulsion before examining his legal options. He did not immediately comment on Monday. 

Edited by: Rebecca Staudenmaier

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Mark Hallam News and current affairs writer and editor with DW since 2006.@marks_hallam