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Maassen's promotion a sign of failure

Felix Steiner
Felix Steiner
September 19, 2018

The coalition in Berlin has solved its crisis by promoting the disgraced domestic intelligence chief. With politics like this, Merkel and her coalition partners are promoting something else entirely, says Felix Steiner.

Angela Merkel and Hans-Georg Maaßen
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/O. Berg

The standard joke in German offices right now goes something like this: "I'm going to mess up real bad so that I'll finally get promoted in two weeks' time!"

Voters are shaking their heads in disbelief at the spectacle currently taking place in Berlin. In many cases, disbelief has turned to anger. In the wake of a coalition summit, a man who was branded a supposed threat to the democratic community can now look forward to a promotion. A rare honor, indeed.

The fact that the head of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) or Germany's domestic intelligence service, is leaving office prematurely is nothing unusual: eight of his 13 predecessors share that same fate. The only new thing is that the Maassen case has grown into a government crisis.

A government crisis solved, but no winners

But government crises, like wars, don't just "break out" – they are made. Most of them deliberately and wantonly. That's true for the most recent one as well. Merkel's coalition partner, the Social Democrats (SPD), has talked up the issue without any need. The only one who could have felt attacked by Maassen, maybe, was Merkel herself. After all, he had questioned her assessment of the events in Chemnitz.

SPD leader Andrea Nahles could have guessed that her demand for Maassen's head would backfire. Maassen had already confidently stated last week that Interior Minister Horst Seehofer had told him that if he, Maassen, had to leave, Seehofer himself would also fall. And that's right.

Felix Steiner
DW's Felix Steiner

Nahles should have known that this would not be allowed to happen less than four weeks before the state elections in Bavaria, Seehofer's home state. You don't have to have studied politics to know that. In this respect, the SPD will have to pay the highest price for this political cabaret – we will likely witness an unprecedented crash in the Bavarian elections. The party already looks like the loser, as it is an SPD deputy minister being sent into retirement to make room for Maassen in the Interior Ministry.

But Merkel and Seehofer have no reason to rejoice, either. Yes, Seehofer has found another way to satisfy his ego. But that serves neither the country nor Seehofer's suffering CSU. And Merkel has once again acted in a way that has characterized her policies for the past three years: She has found a solution for today without thinking about the consequences for tomorrow.

Only lazy compromises left

This new edition of the grand coalition seems to have only one purpose: to keep the right-wing populist "Alternative for Germany" (AfD) out of government and to prevent new elections that would certainly spur its rise even further.

So what now? We have an uninspired coalition that regularly finds itself on the brink of collapse relying on shaky compromises to save itself. Citizens are fed up. And the AfD can be very pleased.

That's a bitter conclusion, especially considering the fact that Angela Merkel was praised as an anchor of stability almost exactly one year ago during the federal elections. Now her power at home is visibly crumbling and she appears to be just going through the motions in a coalition that has nothing more to say.

This chancellor and this government can only promote frustration and the rise of those who want a different "system" in Germany. In other words, exactly what Merkel wanted to prevent. Results like this are commonly called failure.