German conservatives warned their Social Democrat (SPD) partners yesterday (Tuesday) not to score points in a row over the activities of the BND intelligence agency after an attack on Chancellor Angela Merkel by the SPD chief threatened unity in the coalition.
Sigmar Gabriel pushed Merkel into the spotlight on Monday over allegations that the BND had helped the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) to spy on European firms and officials. [ID:nL5N0XV2DL}
Merkel’s conservatives and the SPD have had a harmonious 18 months of power-sharing, introducing several policies championed by the Social Democrats such as a minimum wage.
With a federal election still two and a half years away, however, an outbreak of sniping now could hamper policymaking, for example over an EU-U.S. trade deal.
Top-selling Bild ran the headline “Gabriel rips into Merkel” and a columnist wrote: “From now on, nothing will be as it was.”
Several senior conservatives attributed the criticism of Merkel to SPD jitters over their low poll ratings.
“The convulsive endeavor by Mr Gabriel to draw the chancellor into this … is a confused attempt by the head of the SPD to break out of its opinion poll rut,” conservative Hans-Peter Uhl told Handelsblatt daily.
An INSA poll showed on Tuesday that Merkel’s conservatives had been untouched by the latest BND scandal, inching up half a point to 41 percent while the SPD was unchanged on 25 percent.
Gabriel said on Monday he had twice asked Merkel if there were further cases of industrial espionage and she had said no.
If that turned out not to be the case it would be a blow, he said. “What we are now experiencing is an affair, a secret services scandal capable of causing a very big shock.”
Privacy is a highly sensitive subject in Germany due to extensive snooping by the Stasi secret police in Communist East Germany and by the Gestapo in the Nazi era.
Revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden about wide-ranging espionage in Germany by the United States caused outrage in Germany when they surfaced.
Senior conservative Michael Grosse-Broemer said on Tuesday the SPD should tone down the discussion. “In my view, it’s time to get more objective in this hysterical debate,” he said.
Merkel said on Monday she backed the BND’s cooperation with the NSA in fighting terrorism.
A close ally, Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, has faced calls to resign but has denied he lied to parliament over the BND’s cooperation with the NSA.
The chancellery has said it had known of the NSA’s interest in spying on European defense firms since 2008 although parliament was told in 2014 that it had no information on that.