Germany’s highest court on Tuesday heard a landmark request to ban the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD), but doubts persisted whether the motion would succeed and whether a ban would help to curb right-wing extremism in the country.
Germany’s 16 federal states – represented by the upper house of parliament, the Bundesrat – argue that the NPD advocates a racist and violent ideology similar to that of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party.
The fringe party has been known to glorify Third Reich leaders and trivialize Nazi crimes. Several of its members – including former leader Udo Pastoers – have been convicted of inciting racial hatred.
Mindful of abuses under Hitler’s Nazi regime, Germany has significant legal hurdles for banning a political party. In order to succeed, the states must prove the NPD’s ideology is “combative and aggressive” and poses an active threat to the democratic order.
The plaintiffs will likely point to the fact that former member Ralf Wohlleben is currently on trial for supporting the NSU, a right-wing terror cell responsible for 10 racist killings in the 2000s.
A previous attempt to ban the party failed in 2003 because the presence of undercover informants from the domestic intelligence agency in its upper echelons was seen as weakening the evidence.
Officials say the new request has a stronger footing.
The Verfassungsschutz and police claim all informants have been removed from the NPD, but the party’s lawyer Peter Richter has indicated he may reveal there are still state actors operating within its ranks.
Critics of the legal action have argued the trial will give the NPD a national platform and a ban might drive members underground and promote further radicalization.
“What comes after [a ban] may in fact be worse or more dangerous for the victims and the state, considering members may radicalize, go underground and be more prone to violence,” said Dierk Borstel, an expert on right-wing extremism and the main consultant in the case.
Justice Minister Heiko Maas was quoted as saying a ban would do nothing to eradicate right-wing extremism in Germany.
The NPD gained 1.3 per cent support in the 2013 general election and has never been able to pass the 5-per-cent hurdle to enter parliament.
It currently holds seats in one state legislature in the country’s former Communist east and several local councils. It has 5,200 members.
The Constitutional Court hearing in the south-western city of Karlsruhe is expected to last for three days but a decision might not be reached in several months.