Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court will reach a potentially historic decision next week on whether to outlaw the far-right National Democratic Party of Germany, alleged by lawmakers to be inspired by the Third Reich and bent on overthrowing the democratic system.
The lawsuit was brought by the upper house of parliament and is the second attempt to ban the party since 2003, when the case against it collapsed because some of the party officials called to testify turned out to be informants paid by the government.
The new case, brought by the upper house, which represents Germany’s 16 regional states, alleges that the party incites people to torch refugee hostels and believes in ethnic supremacy.
The lawsuit was prepared more carefully this time. Informants were withdrawn to prevent a repeat of the botched attempt in 2003.
But the government did not join the case because it had doubts whether the party is significant enough to pose a real danger to Germany’s constitutional order.
It has no seats in the national parliament and is no longer represented in any of of the 16 regional assemblies. It has one seat in the European Parliament and scored only 1.3 percent in the last general election. To be sure, that was still a disturbingly large number of 560,000 votes for a party that intelligence agencies say subscribes to a racist, anti-Semitic, revisionist ideology that is hostile to the constitution and sympathetic to National Socialism.
The National Democratic Party is protected by the democratic constitution it opposes so vigorously. Mindful of Nazi abuses, Germany has set high hurdles to outlawing a political party.
But the party has suffered some stinging defeats, losing its seats in the eastern parliament of first Saxony in 2014 and then Mecklenburg Western-Pomerania in 2016, despite its furious opposition that year to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s controversial open-door refugee policy.
Its failure to capitalize politically on public concern over the arrival of almost 1 million refugees since the start of 2015 highlights how insignificant it has become as a political force, say analysts.
Many of its supporters have drifted to the right-wing populist, anti-immigration Alternative for Germany party, which was polling at 15 percent according to a survey released last week and is widely expected to clear the 5 percent threshold needed to win seats in the national parliament in the fall 2017 election.
The National Democratic Party is protected by the democratic constitution it opposes so vigorously. Mindful of Nazi abuses, Germany has set high hurdles to outlawing a political party. The constitution or Basic Law states: “Parties that, by reason of their aims or the behavior of their adherents, seek to undermine or abolish the free democratic basic order or to endanger the existence of the Federal Republic of Germany shall be unconstitutional.”
In making its ruling, the court must take account of the European Court of Human Rights which says that a party must pose a real threat of wielding strong political influence or even of taking over the government. Given the party’s limited and waning influence, that could prove the decisive aspect.
The ruling will be the first of a number of major decisions to be handed down by the court in the sleepy southwestern town of Karlsruhe this year. It will also deal again with the European Union’s free trade deal with Canada, know as the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, or CETA.
The court in October gave the green light to CETA, rejecting emergency appeals by activists. But it ruled that the German government must ensure that only parts of CETA which fall within the competence of the European Union, such as the removal of tariffs, should be allowed to apply provisionally.
Activists have taken fresh legal action accusing the government of failing to meet the court’s conditions. As CETA is due to take effect in the first half of 2017, the court will likely to reach its decision relatively quickly.
The court is also expected to reach a decision on a controversial law passed in 2015 to amend Germany’s system of collective bargaining. The law was aimed at preventing small trade unions from bringing the country to a standstill, as has happened in recent years with train drivers’ and airline pilots’ strikes.
The law would weaken the rights of a small union if there is another, bigger union representing workers in the same category such as train drivers. Effectively, it will allow courts to forbid strikes called by small unions if they break the new collective bargaining system.
Heike Anger is an editor for economics and politics. To contact the author: [email protected].