BERLIN (AFP) — Germany’s domestic security agency has placed the far-right AfD under surveillance for posing a threat to democracy, parliamentary sources said Wednesday, dealing a blow to the anti-immigration party in a big election year.
The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) has classified the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party as a “suspected case” of having ties to right-wing extremism, the sources told AFP.
The decision, made late last week according to a report in Der Spiegel weekly, will allow intelligence agents to shadow the party, tap its communications and possibly use undercover informants.
It follows a two-year investigation and a report containing some 1,000 pages of evidence, including several hundred speeches and statements by AfD members at all party levels, Der Spiegel said.
However, lawmakers, as well as candidates standing in September’s general election, will be excluded from the monitoring, said the parliamentary sources, noting that such surveillance would require even more stringent justifications.
The BfV said it was unable to comment on the case in view of pre-emptive urgent proceedings filed by the AfD against the agency’s bid to class it as a “suspected case.”
One of the heads of the party, Alexander Gauland, accused the BfV of playing politics and trying to bring about the “destruction” of the AfD.
The party would not be “pandering” to the agency, he told reporters, drawing comparisons to state security in the former East Germany.
Fellow co-leader Alice Weidel told the DPA news agency the AfD would take legal action against the decision, which she called “particularly remarkable in view of the upcoming state and federal elections this year.”
The anti-Islam, hard-right AfD has often courted controversy by calling for Germany to stop atoning for its World War II crimes. Gauland once described the Nazi era as just “a speck of bird shit” on German history.
Starting out at as an anti-euro outfit in 2013, the AfD capitalized on public anger over Chancellor Angela Merkel’s 2015 decision to allow in a wave of asylum seekers from conflict-torn countries like Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.
The AfD took nearly 13 percent of the vote in the 2017 general election, allowing it to make its debut in the German Bundestag where it is also the biggest opposition party.
But with the migrant influx waning and with the coronavirus pandemic roiling Germany, the AfD has seen its popularity fall while Merkel’s handling of the health crisis has won her plaudits.
The AfD faces six regional elections this year and a general election on September 26, the first in over 15 years that will not feature Merkel, who is retiring from politics.
Latest surveys show the party’s popularity at between 9 and 11 percent.
The BfV had already placed a radical fringe of the party known as The Wing under surveillance last year over associations with known neo-Nazis and suspicions of violating the constitution.
The faction, led by firebrand Bjoern Hoecke, dissolved itself last March but many of its 7,000 members remain active in the AfD.
The Wing’s continued influence in the party was one of the reasons for the BfV decision, according to Der Spiegel, along with links to various other right-wing extremist organizations.
The AfD’s regional branches in Thuringia, Brandenburg, Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt have also been designated as “suspected cases” of right-wing extremism.
The head of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, Josef Schuster, welcomed the classification as a “right and necessary step.”
“With its destructive politics, the AfD contributes to undermining our democratic structures and to discrediting democracy,” he said.
But the decision to place the party under surveillance could in fact boost the AfD’s chances in upcoming elections, according to the RND broadcaster.
The classification could serve as “a distinction in the fight against the ‘Merkel system,'” it said, suggesting the BfV could be playing “a very dangerous game”.