BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday replaced the chief of Germany’s foreign intelligence service. The move caught many by surprise as Europe faces growing pressure from Islamist terrorism and as the chancellor looks ahead to a general election next year.
Peter Altmaier, Ms. Merkel’s chief of staff, said the decision to replace the spy chief, Gerhard Schindler, was a response to the challenges the intelligence agency faced, including new security threats and reforms being considered by a parliamentary oversight committee.
The committee was formed after revelations by Edward J. Snowden, a former contractor for the National Security Agency, that Washington had tapped the chancellor’s personal cellphone in 2013. Last year, agents in Mr. Schindler’s agency told the committee that they had carried out searches at the behest of the National Security Agency, without questioning whether they were in compliance with German law.
It also came to light last year that German agents had spied on domestic and European companies, further fueling outrage among Germans.
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Germany and the United States have clashed repeatedly over spying, but Mr. Schindler had managed to weather the uproar set off by each revelation.
Wednesday’s announcement thus came as a surprise to many, even within Ms. Merkel’s party.
“I am shocked,” Stephan Mayer, a member of the chancellor’s Christian Democrats, told ARD, a public broadcaster.
Ms. Merkel has sought to mend her country’s differences with Washington over intelligence gathering, but many Germans still believe that she has not done enough. Lawmakers have been debating a bill that would overhaul the foreign intelligence agency, giving Parliament more control over its actions and requiring increased transparency.
Mr. Schindler, 63, who was to retire in two years, will be replaced on July 1 by Bruno Kahl, an official from the Finance Ministry.
Opposition lawmakers voiced concern that the change could endanger the push to enact changes at the agency.