AGI Profiles: Hans-Georg Engelke

Emilie Aust

Halle Foundation/AGI Intern

Emilie Aust is a research intern at AGI in Spring 2024. She supports the team and resident fellows in their research with a particular focus on foreign and security policies as well as geoeconomic policy. Ms. Aust is a Master of Law Candidate at the George Washington University Law School focusing in National Security and U.S. Foreign Relations.

Prior to coming to the United States, Ms. Aust finished her first state law examination in Berlin, Germany, and gained working experience in white collar crime and criminal law. Ms. Aust will return to Berlin in the summer of 2024 to start her traineeship at the Berlin District Court.

State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of the Interior and Community

Hans-Georg Engelke, State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of the Interior and Community (Bundesministerium des Innern und für Heimat, BMI) has served various ministers in three governments, starting with Minister Thomas de Maizière in 2015 (Christian Democratic Union, CDU), the Christian Social Union’s (CSU) Horst Seehofer from 2018-2021, and the current interior minister Nancy Faeser (SPD, Social Democratic Party of Germany). The State Secretary oversees the central department of the ministry, the public security division, and the federal police affairs division. He dedicated his early career to counterterrorism.

Early Career

The Frankfurt (Main)-born lawyer began his governmental career in 1994 as the public prosecutor for government and associated crime in Berlin related to the era of the German Democratic Republic. In 1999 Engelke transitioned to the Federal Ministry of the Interior and Community as policy officer in the division for crime control policy, contributing to the development and execution of strategies to combat crime in Bonn and Berlin. The BMI and its executive agencies cover a broad range of tasks and activities, extending from civil protection, integration, and sport funding to security. Starting as a policy officer, Engelke then became Private Secretary to the State Secretary of the BMI in 2001.

His career continued with leadership roles at BMI in 2003, where Engelke headed the division for counterterrorism law and policy, shaping the legal framework to address the evolving threat of terrorism. From 2005-2006, he was head of the division for operational counterterrorism and delved into the practical aspects of implementing counterterrorism measures.

He then moved to the office of the directorate-general for counterterrorism and Islamist extremism at the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, BfV), stationed in both Cologne and Berlin until 2010. Returning to Berlin in 2011, Engelke led the division for federal police operations and command, demonstrating a comprehensive understanding of law enforcement operations and command structures at the BMI.

All his prior experiences fell into place when he took over as head of the directorate responsible for protection of the Constitution and head, counterterrorism unit, on a federal level at BMI in 2012. Engelke held this position until 2014 when he shifted to the role of chief of the executive staff unit at the BMI.

Fighting Right-Wing Extremism and Promotion to State Secretary

It was the CDU’s Thomas De Maizere who finally promoted Engelke in 2015 to become State Secretary at BMI in the third Merkel administration. Paving the way to the promotion was Engelke’s work as a crisis manager in a particularly sensitive case.

In November 2011, just a few days after the dramatic end of the National Socialist Underground (NSU) terror cell, a head of unit at the BfV had files shredded. The following scandal led to the resignation of the BfV president Heinz Fromm in July 2012. The then-Federal Minister of the Interior, Hans-Peter Friedrich (CSU), appointed Engelke to investigate the destruction of the documents due to his expertise and previous experience at the BfV. In his report on the affair, he identified more shredding operations but said that the destruction of files appeared to be routine.

Since becoming State Secretary in 2015, Engelke continued focusing on counterterrorism and saw three main threats prompted by the decline of the Islamic State in 2018: returning foreign terrorist fighters, the influx of refugees, and radicalization.

In 2018, Engelke stated that the counterterrorism fight, at least in Germany, must also include a program to prevent right-wing extremism and stressed that the government should not underestimate reactions and counterreactions to a terrorist attack. The state secretary referred to mass demonstrations with approximately 8,000 participants taking place in the east German town Chemnitz after an Iraqi and a Syrian asylum seeker were suspected in a knife attack that killed a German the days before. This concern about a strengthening of the right-wing parties has been confirmed in retrospect, seen in the rise of the populist right-radical party the Alternative for Germany (AfD). Polling at 18 percent in 2018, the AfD has risen even further in popularity to as high as 23 percent in December 2024.

Engelke also directly fought right-wing extremism as he conducted the banning of the neo-Nazi group Combat 18, a loosely-organized group of around twenty fanatics with a penchant for weapons and shooting training. Following the murder of Kassel district president Walter Lübcke by an extremist affiliated with Combat 18 in 2019, then-Minister of Interior Seehofer (CSU) proposed banning the militant group. However, in order to ban the group nationwide, the BMI had to prove that Combat 18 could definitely be considered a “structured association” (strukturierter Verein) in order to justify the legal requirement to ban an organization. Engelke thought that evidence present from the police and intelligence services was not enough to proceed. After sufficient evidence for a ban was gathered, Seehofer disbanded the Nazi group in January 2020. The ban order was so detailed that Combat 18 decided not to take legal action.

Countering Anti-Semitism

After the Hamas terrorist assault on Israel, Engelke emphasized the focus on the fight against anti-Semitism in December 2023. At the closing press conference of the annual Interior Minister Conference, he stated, “Jewish life is under the special protection of our state. We do everything we can for the safety of Jews in our country.” The Conference of Interior Ministers dealt intensively with the considerable impact that the situation in Israel and Gaza is having on Germany’s security situation while underlining the nation’s historical responsibility in this matter.

The views expressed are those of the author(s) alone. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the American-German Institute.