Holocaust survivors were among the first to criticize Germany’s top court for rejecting a bid to outlaw a fringe far-right party accused of pursuing a racist and anti-Semitic agenda.
The Federal Constitutional Court on Tuesday ruled the National Democratic Party (NPD) is too insignificant to spell a real threat to German democracy.
In explaining the ruling, Chief Justice Andreas Vosskuhle said that while the party’s goals run counter to the German constitution, “there are currently no concrete indications … that its actions will lead to success.”
But the International Auschwitz Committee, a group representing survivors of the Nazi death camp, voiced dismay at the ruling, warning that it could spur far-right extremists across Europe to champion more hate.
“How can it be that those who cheerfully celebrate the Holocaust and provoke new episodes of hatred in many municipalities may remain in the democratic spectrum?” Vice President Christoph Heubner asked.
“This reality-blind and untimely decision sends a disastrous signal to Europe, where far-right and right-wing populists have found new partnerships and are now trying to transform the fear and insecurity of the population into hatred and aggression,” he warned in a statement.
World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder also expressed disappointment at Tuesday’s ruling, saying it “sends the wrong signal” to such groups.
“Unfortunately, this verdict allows the NPD to pursue its destructive, anti-democratic activities and to spread more anti-Semitic and racist hatred,” Lauder said in a statement. “We must never forget how little time it took Hitler and his party to destroy German democracy, to murder six million Jews and to plunge the entire European continent into mayhem.”
“The situation today may be different, but there is absolutely no reason to be complacent. Germany must continue to combat the neo-Nazi movement vigorously,” he said.
Tuesday’s ruling marks the second failed attempt by the German parliament’s upper house to ban the NPD; it first applied for the ban at the end of 2013.
Lawmakers at the time told the court the NPD fosters “a climate of fear,” “shares essential characteristics” with the Nazis and “wants to destabilize and overthrow the liberal-democratic order.”
In 2015, Germany’s central Jewish council welcomed the court’s decision to consider the ban, calling it “a very important step and an important contribution to the stability of our democracy.”
But on Tuesday the court said NPD’s questionable ideology alone wasn’t reason enough for a ban. A party would need to be actively working to abolish Germany’s free and democratic order, Justice Vosskuhle said, adding there “is no evidence for this here.”
He also cited the party’s political irrelevance, pointing out that it has only a single seat in the European Parliament and that the NPD’s election results have in recent years been “on a low level.”
Founded in 1964 as a successor to the neo-fascist German Reich Party, the NPD calls for “the survival and continued existence of the German people in its ancestral central European living space” — or simply, “Germany for the Germans.” Such language flirts with phraseology used by the Nazis.
Germany’s domestic intelligence agency classifies the ultra-nationalist NPD as a far-right party, and estimates it has approximately 6,000 members in a country of 82 million.
Agencies contributed to this report.