Merkel acknowledges mishandling of spymaster dispute

By Joseph Nasr

BERLIN (Reuters) – Conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday acknowledged public misgivings about her handling of a dispute over the future of Germany’s spymaster and said she would pour her energy into issues that matter more for Germans.

The protracted row over the future of the head of the BfV intelligence agency had threatened to unravel Merkel’s six-month-old government.

It also frustrated Germans worried about bigger issues, like rising real estate prices, prospects for pensions and the diesel emissions scandal.

“I focused too much on functionality and processes in the interior ministry and not enough on what moves people, rightly, when they hear of someone’s promotion. I regret very much that that was allowed to happen,” Merkel said.

“It is important that we now solve the problems of the people,” she said.

The three coalition parties agreed on Tuesday to transfer spy chief Hans-Georg Maassen to the Interior Ministry following accusations that he harbored far-right views. Maassen had questioned the authenticity of video footage showing radicals hounding migrants in the eastern city of Chemnitz.

But their decision sparked public outrage because the senior post they picked for Maassen came with a pay rise. Some members of the Social Democrats (SPD) — the junior partner in Merkel’s coalition — had called for their party to quit the alliance if the decision was not revoked.

The deal unraveled on Friday when Andrea Nahles, leader of the center-left SPD, said it was a mistake. A poll published on Thursday had shown 72 percent of voters had less confidence in the government after the clumsy compromise.

After a meeting between the party leaders on Sunday to hammer out a new compromise, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said they had agreed Maassen would work in the Interior Ministry in future but would not receive a pay rise.

(Additional reporting by Tassilo Hummel, Riham Alkoussa and Michael Nienaber; Editing by Maria Sheahan)

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