Germany’s highest court on Tuesday threw out a bid to ban the far-right NPD party, arguing that the xenophobic fringe outfit is too insignificant to spell a real threat to the democratic order.
“The request has been rejected,” said Federal Constitutional Court top judge Andreas Vosskuhle about the bid to ban the neo-Nazi party, which has around 6,000 members.
He added that “the NPD pursues anti-constitutional goals, but there is currently no concrete evidence… to suggest that it will succeed.”
The case marks the second failed attempt to outlaw the National Democratic Party of Germany, with the latest launched by the Bundesrat upper house of parliament, which represents Germany’s 16 states.
The German parliament’s upper house had applied for the party, known popularly as NPD, to be banned at the end of 2013.
Vosskuhle, in explaining the verdict, mentioned the party’s irrelevance, pointing out it had only a single seat in the European Parliament and that the NPD’s election results have in recent years been “on a low level.”
Vosskuhle said that a possible ban of a party wasn’t based on the party’s ideology, but its active aim and plan to abolish Germany’s free and democratic order.
“There must be a systematic approach aimed at destroying or eliminating the liberal democratic constitution or threatening the existence of Germany,” he said, noting that the threat had to be credible.
“There’s no evidence for this here,” the judge added.
The party isn’t represented in the Bundestag after winning just 1.3 percent of the vote in the last national election in 2013. Parties need to meet a 5% threshold to hold seats in the federal parliament.
Holocaust survivors voiced dismay at the ruling, with the International Auschwitz Committee’s vice president, Christoph Heubner, warning that it could spur 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?” he 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.
High hurdles for banning
With an eye cast back at the elimination of dissent in Hitler’s Germany, the drafters of the post-war constitution set high hurdles for banning a party.
Only two political parties have been outlawed since 1945: the SRP, a Nazi successor party, in 1952, and the West German Communist Party (KPD) in 1956.
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 the turns of phrase used by the Nazis.
For the Bundesrat, the group creates a “climate of fear,” “shares essential characteristics” with the Nazis and “wants to destabilize and overthrow the liberal-democratic order.”
Germany’s domestic intelligence services classify the ultra-nationalist NPD as a far-right party.
Things, however, have changed in German politics since the launch of the second case against the NPD in 2013.
The AfD has brushed the NPD to the fringes, and the populist movement could see members elected to the parliament in Berlin at polls later this year — something no similar party has managed since 1945.
Many politicians and media commentators say parties such as the NPD must be beaten in the battle of ideas.
“It’s up to politics and civil society, not the courts,” the center-left Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily commented.
“Hating foreigners cannot be banned, no law can help against radicalization reaching the center of society.”
What’s more, the newspaper argued, banning the NPD risked sending a signal to “autocrats” abroad, who could point to the decision to justify crushing the opposition.