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Germany’s top court blocks ban on far-right NPD

Party’s aim to set up authoritarian state appears impossible, say judges

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Germany’s highest court said on Tuesday it had decided not to ban the extreme right wing National Democratic party, saying it was too small and weak to achieve its aim of overthrowing the country’s democratic order.

It’s the second time in 14 years that the constitutional court has rejected an attempt to prohibit the NPD, whose slogan is “Germany for Germans”.

Judges ruled that the party pursued anti-constitutional aims, such as replacing the democratic system with an “authoritarian national state” run along ethnic lines, and that it had an “affinity” with the Nazi party.

But it added that to justify a ban, the NPD also needed to have the potential to successfully implement its political objectives, and it clearly did not.“

It appears to be entirely impossible that the NPD will succeed in achieving its aims by parliamentary or extra-parliamentary democratic means,” it said.

The NPD was once the main flag-bearer of the extreme right but has since been eclipsed by the Alternative for Germany, a right wing, anti-immigration party that is represented in 10 regional parliaments.

Established in 1964, the NPD scored only 1.3 per cent in the Bundestag elections four years ago and last September was voted out of the last regional parliament where it still had representation. Membership has declined sharply over the past few years to fewer than 6,000.

Germany has only ever banned two parties since the second world war: the German Communist party in 1956 and the neo-Nazi Socialist Reich Party in 1952.

Eva Högl, a senior figure in the Social Democrats, called Tuesday’s ruling “very disappointing”. She said a ban would have helped in the battle against the extreme right, “because it would have hit the party as an organisation and also stopped it being financed by taxpayers”.

Bernd Riexinger, a leader of the left wing Die Linke, said the NPD would see the judgment as an “affirmation”. “[It] will now do everything it can to drive the climate of public opinion further to the right,” he said.

The bar for shutting down parties is high. According to the constitution they can be banned only if they “seek to undermine or abolish” Germany’s free democratic foundations. The European Court of Human Rights has also made clear that a clampdown can be justified only if the party involved is a direct threat to the state.

Authorities have been trying to bar the NPD for more than 15 years. Efforts began in 2000 after an arson attack on a synagogue believed — wrongly — to have been carried out by neo-Nazis.

A first attempt failed in 2003 after it emerged that the NPD’s leadership had been infiltrated by informants working for Germany’s domestic intelligence agency.

The latest attempt was filed with the constitutional court in 2013 by the Bundesrat, the upper house of Germany’s parliament, which represents the 16 regions. It presented evidence that the NPD created an “atmosphere of fear” which, in certain parts of eastern Germany, was impairing the democratic process. The Bundesrat listed examples of intimidation, threats and attacks on the NPD’s political opponents.

In hearings in March Joachim Herrmann, Bavaria’s interior minister, said the NPD played a “prominent role” in setting the agenda for the extreme rightwing. Lorenz Caffier, his counterpart in the eastern region of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, said NPD members had organised demonstrations outside the houses of local mayors and threatened leftwing politicians, who had had to seek police protection.

The court rejected those arguments, saying there were “no sufficient indications” that the NPD created an atmosphere of fear that undermined the free formation of political opinions. Intimidation and threats were a matter for the police, the court said.

Peter Müller, one of the constitutional court judges, said in March that the “power of free debate” should be a guiding principle for Germany, describing it as “the salt in the soup of democracy”.

A first attempt failed in 2003 after it emerged that the NPD’s leadership had been infiltrated by informants working for Germany’s domestic intelligence agency.

The latest attempt was filed with the constitutional court in 2013 by the Bundesrat, the upper house of Germany’s parliament, which represents the 16 regions. It presented evidence that the NPD created an “atmosphere of fear” which, in certain parts of eastern Germany, was impairing the democratic process. The Bundesrat listed examples of intimidation, threats and attacks on the NPD’s political opponents.

In hearings in March Joachim Herrmann, Bavaria’s interior minister, said the NPD played a “prominent role” in setting the agenda for the extreme rightwing. Lorenz Caffier, his counterpart in the eastern region of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, said NPD members had organised demonstrations outside the houses of local mayors and threatened left wing politicians, who had had to seek police protection.

The court rejected those arguments, saying there were “no sufficient indications” that the NPD created an atmosphere of fear that undermined the free formation of political opinions. Intimidation and threats were a matter for the police, the court said.

Peter Müller, one of the constitutional court judges, said in March that the “power of free debate” should be a guiding principle for Germany, describing it as “the salt in the soup of democracy”.

Financial Times

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