BERLIN — Germany’s top Jewish organization has applauded a new attempt to ban the country’s main neo-Nazi party.
Three days of hearings began Tuesday in Germany’s top court – the Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe – to examine the constitutionality of outlawing the far-right National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD).
It would be the second attempt to ban the party – the first failed on a legal technicality in 2003. Observers say a second failure would be devastating.
At issue is whether the NPD poses a threat to democracy. It is very difficult to ban a party in Germany, due to post-Nazi era laws designed to safeguard free speech.
Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said in a statement Tuesday that a trial would “show [the NPD’s] true face” to the world.
The NPD blames foreigners for Germany’s problems and belittles the Holocaust. Though the party has never made it into the federal parliament, its representatives have been elected into two state parliaments in the past decade by barely passing the 5 percent vote minimum. It currently has representatives in the state legislature of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Election success earns the party federal taxpayer money.
In 2014, a notorious German NPD member was elected to the European parliament, which has a lower minimum of votes.
Said Schuster: “The NPD wants to do away with our democracy and set up a nationalist state where there is no more room for minorities.” A trial would not work as an advertisement for the party, but rather as a deterrent, he added.
The 2003 attempt to ban the NPD failed after the Supreme Court learned that government informants themselves instigated some of the allegedly unconstitutional activities.
On Tuesday, NPD lawyers challenged the impartiality of two judges in the new hearings, and portrayed the party as a victim of surveillance and infiltration, according to news reports. They demanded confirmation from German Chancellor Angela Merkel herself that there were no government spies within their party’s ranks.
German Justice Minister Heiko Maas told reporters that even if the trial succeeds, the fight against racism and extremism in Germany would not be over. Right-wing and populist parties appear to have been gaining support for their opposition to Merkel’s liberal refugee policy.