BERLIN (AP) — Germany’s main opposition party on Monday launched an effort to expel from its ranks a former head of the country’s intelligence agency, weeks after he complained of what he said was a move toward “eliminatory racism against whites.”

The center-right Christian Democratic Union two weeks ago gave Hans-Georg Maassen an ultimatum to leave the party by Feb. 5, which he ignored. On Monday, party leader Friedrich Merz said the CDU leadership decided unanimously to start expulsion proceedings and withdraw his membership rights with immediate effect.

Maassen was removed as the head of the BfV domestic intelligence agency in 2018 after appearing to downplay far-right violence against migrants in the eastern city of Chemnitz. He has since become a vocal if marginal figure on the hard right of the CDU — the party once led by former Chancellor Angela Merkel — and ran unsuccessfully for election to the national parliament in 2021.

Party leaders ran out of patience with Maassen after a mid-January tweet in which he said that the direction of “the driving forces in the political and media sphere” was “eliminatory racism against whites and the burning desire for Germany to kick the bucket.”

Merz said that “this is not the kind of language we use in political arguments, no matter with whom.”

“A clear line has been drawn today, and the party will thank us for it in very, very large part,” he added. “And above all, it will be recognizable for the population that we are conservative, we are liberal, we are Christian and social, but we are not right-wing radicals.”

Merz said the move also underscored the “firewall” between his party and the far-right Alternative for Germany, which has established itself as a political force over the past decade and has been represented in the national parliament since 2017.

Despite Monday’s decision, it may be some time before the CDU can put Maassen behind it. In Germany, expelling party members is a complicated and often lengthy process that frequently fails.