Germany’s highest court ruled against banning the far-right National Democratic Party for the second time on Tuesday, finding the movement was too insignificant to pose a real threat to the country.
In a closely-watched verdict, the Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe rejected the petition submitted by Germany’s states in 2013 to ban the NPD, which was founded by right-wing splinter groups in former West Germany in 1964. Today, the NPD claims some 5,000 members nation-wide, though they are not currently represented in any regional parliaments.
Although the judges “unanimously” found that that NPD exhibits “similarities” with National Socialism and pursues goals which are not compatible with the country's constitution, court president Andreas Vosskuhle stated that “there is currently no tangible evidence that make it appear possible for their actions to become successful.”
This is the second time that a petition to ban the NPD has failed. In 2003, the constitutional court suspended proceedings against the party when it was discovered that members of the NPD leadership were also informants for Germany’s domestic security agency, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution.
In 2013, the upper house of Germany’s parliament brought a new case. The Bundesrat, which represents the country’s 16 regional states, alleged that the party incites people to torch refugee centers and believes in ethnic supremacy.
The lawsuit was prepared more carefully this time and informants withdrawn to prevent a repeat of the botched attempt in 2003.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 far-right party is significant enough to pose a real danger to Germany’s constitutional order.
The NPD has no seats in parliament and is no longer represented in any of the 16 regional assemblies. It has one seat in the European Parliament and in the last general election it obtained 560,000 votes, scoring just 1.3 percent.
The NPD suffered a stinging defeat in September last year when it lost its seats in the eastern parliament of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, despite its furious opposition to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s controversial open-door refugee policy. The populist, anti-immigration Alternative for Germany party won 21 percent of all votes in that state election.
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.”
The political aim of the NPD is the elimination of the free democratic basic order. Andreas Vosskuhle, President of Germany's constitutional court
The supreme court ruled Tuesday that the far-right party headquartered in Köpenick, a working-class district in eastern Berlin, broadly meets that definition.
“The political aim of the NPD is the elimination of the free democratic basic order,” the top judges said, emphasizing that “the concept of nation advocated by the NPD violates human dignity.”
However, the party is not politically strong enough to achieve its aims and therefore should not be banned, the court has found.
Since the foundation of the Federal Republic in 1949, only two parties have been banned in Germany, the Communist Party and the Socialist German Reich Party. The latter was seen as the direct successor to the NSDAP or National Socialist Workers Party, which ruled Germany between 1933 and 1945.
The judges nevertheless gave the state the legal means to starve the far-right party of public funds, should it choose to do so.
Legislature, or the Bundestag, rather than the Constitutional Court, should decide on a withdrawal of state funding, the court found. Judge Vosskuhle said that with the verdict the republic could continue to "effectively defend itself against its serious constitutional enemies."
The NPD is also liable for the legal fees it has accrued in the proceedings in Karlsruhe.
Jean-Michel Hauteville is an editor with Handelsblatt Global in Berlin. To contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org.