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Germany swears in watchdog to root out extremism in forces

May 28, 2020

An outgoing Social Democrat lawmaker has been sworn in as the German parliament's new commissioner for Germany's military, the Bundeswehr. Eva Högl said "attitudes" must change.

Eva Högl being sworn in
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Kappeler

Germany's parliament on Thursday inaugurated Eva Högl as its Bundeswehr overseer, who will head up a new Defense Ministry task force.

Högl said the group must make a "really quite thorough" probe into extremist tendencies in the German military.

Two weeks ago, police raided a KSK soldier's property in eastern Saxony state, allegedly finding a cache of weapons and explosives.

Högl told parliament she was not leveling "general suspicion" at the 1,100-person elite forces unit, the KSK, based in Calw in southwestern Baden-Württemberg state, and that she was not targeting the Bundeswehr as a whole. 

"It is however not only a cluster of individual cases," she told parliament Thursday.

Read more: Eva Högl: The new woman set to scrutinize the Bundeswehr

"We must also look at what we have to do to change the structures so that such attitudes do not spread and to strengthen those soldiers who oppose them," said Högl.

On Wednesday, a spokeswoman for Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said the ministerial group probing the KSK would report to parliament.

Already, the ministry was considering "psychological screening" of potential KSK recruits coupled with special training to deter extremism.

Commander tells extremists to leave

The KSK's leading general Markus Kreitmayr told KSK members in a letter on May 18 that disclosures about far-right cases — since 2017 — had thrust his brigade into "the most difficult phase of its history."

Read more: New figures on extremism in German military 'tip of the iceberg'

"In the midst of our community, there were and obviously still are individuals who have been and still are part of the so-called right spectrum," said Kreitmayr, warning they would be removed, but should leave of their own accord.

The KSK, established in 1996, currently comprises 1,100 personnel spread across six units, including counterterrorism, hostage-rescue and intelligence gathering. 

Under Article 45b of Germany's Basic Law constitution, the commissioner helps parliament oversee the Bundeswehr and is also regarded as an advocate for Germany's soldiers, currently numbering 184,000.

Assuming the post on Thursday, Högl relinquished her mandate as Bundestag member being replaced by the SPD's leftist-oriented Mechthild Rawert.

Read more: Germany: 14 Bundeswehr members deemed extremist

Högl replaces Hans-Peter Bartels, another SPD figure, as Bundeswehr commissioner under the precept that parliament controls Germany's military. 

Bartels had sought reappointment but lost out to Högl, alongside another SPD aspirant Johannes Kahrs, amid critique that Högl had no prior military experience.

Elected with Merkel support

Högl's election by parliament in early May with 389 votes hinged on support from Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives, including Kramp-Karrenbauer, currently in coalition with the Social Democrats.

The opposition liberal Free Democrats' (FDP) defense expert Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann had described Högl's replacement of Bartels as an "insult against soldiers (male and female)." 

ipj/rc (dpa, AFP)

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