German neo-Nazi party gears up for EP entry
Germany’s neo-nazi party, the NPD, is feeling euphoric. And it’s all down to Germany’s top court. The constitutional court’s recent decision to overturn the three-percent hurdle for obtaining a seat means the party could get a seat in the next European Parliament.
In fact, it is counting on its lead candidate Udo Voigt becoming an MEP after the May vote. It would be a first in the NPD’s 50-year old history.
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It needs just 0.7 percent of the vote to get one of Germany’s 96 seats. In the last parliamentary vote, in September 2013, it managed 1.2 percent of the vote.
Voigt meanwhile has polished the party's image. Under his 15-year leadership, the party has modernised, taken in young radicals, opened up to social issues and made it into two regional parliaments. It now has over 320 local representatives and nurtures an image as a party that looks after ordinary citizens.
Founded in 1964, the NPD has received around €10 million in public money in the last ten years, although it was fined over €1 million for poor accounting. Its current financial situation is dire as it is said to have only around €300,000 available for the election campaign.
Meanwhile a look behind the scenes reveals that a quarter of the NPD’s board members at the national and local level has been previously convicted either for offences such as sedition or for assault on political opponents, homeless people or migrants. Meanwhile links have been found between the NPD and the NSU, a right-wing terror group to which ten murders have recently been attributed.
Small wonder then that national papers in Germany reacted to the constitutional court’s decision with little enthusiasm. The left-wing Tageszeitung wrote that Voigt, a former soldier from Bavaria, had virtually been given “a free ticket to Brussels”.
For his part, the usually taciturn Voigt was relatively exuberant in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. “The mood is of course excellent now. Voters finally have the feeling they can vote for the NPD without thinking that their vote is going to waste,” he said.
Prior to the court decision there had been grumbling in the party about the chances at the ballot box. But now, says Andreas Speit, journalist and author of a book on Europe’s radical right, “the NPD is clearly going to strengthen its campaigning.”
The NPD has the far-right playing field almost all to itself, after the newly-founded extremist party The Right missed getting itself registered for the EU vote on time. The Republicans, another right-wing group, meanwhile do not have enough members and anyway pose no real political threat to the newly confident NPD. The main potential political threat could be the populistic and anti-euro Alternative fuer Deutschland who could poach NPD voters.
Speit believes the NPD will push their “Four NOs” in the electoral campaign ahead of the May vote. They are: No to the European Union; No to a multicultural society; No to immigration and No to the “Islamification of western Europe”. These demands bring them in line with all radical right-wingers in Europe.
The party’s international programme coordinator is the popular former skinhead Jens Puehse from Bremen in northern Germany. There he sold ‘far-right rock music' (Rechtsrock). Today he works in the party’s headquarters in Berlin, wears grey suits and a toupee, and travels around representing the NPD. He has just returned from Italy where he was a speaker at a “Forza Nuova” congress.
Under the slogan “Europe is rising” nationalists from five countries – including representatives from the British National Party, Greece’s Chrysi Avgi and Manuel Canduela from Democracia Nacional of Spain - gathered near Rome.
In the Pineta Congress Hotel, Puehse told the around 500-strong audience that “the NPD will definitely be represented in the next European Parliament”.
“The years-long work abroad and the intensive efforts to make contacts with our European partners will then pay off,” he added.
He also said that talks with similar right-wingers in the European Parliament were "well-advanced" while "further meetings are being prepared".
The use of the word “partners” rather than the preferred “comrades” of internal meetings is itself a sign of the party’s attempts to become more sophisticated.
But Puehse cannot quite hide his radical roots. In Rome he turned to military language noting that the NPD is “well prepared to turn these (national groups) into an effective formation.”
Ban the party?
Germany has long had a debate about whether to ban the NPD. The issue came to the fore once more at the end of last year when the Bundesrat, representing Germany’s regions, submitted a request to the constitutional court asking for the party to be banned.
A similar attempt failed in 2003, symbolically strengthening the neo-nazis’ hand.
In the several-hundred-pages-long current submission, the NPD is accused of wanting to get rid of a constitution based on the principles of democracy and liberty.
Its idea of an ethnically pure German “nation” goes against the core of democracy and human dignity, says the submission to the court. It adds that for the NPD party leadership it is clear that “an African, Asian or Arab person can never become German.”
For now, however, the focus is on the May EU elections.
On Facebook the party is already fired up: “Now all we have to do is an election campaign and then we’ll manage to get two MEPs.”
The second EU deputy would be Dr Olaf Rose, a historian and number two on the party’s list for Brussels.
Rose, who works for the NPD in Saxony’s regional parliament, says he is qualified for the EU seat because between 1983 and 2004 he was “tour leader” for around 100 educational and cruise trips meaning he got to see 60 countries. Today the frequent Russia-visitor is known for his fear-mongering statements: “Today you are tolerant. Tomorrow you are a stranger in your own country!
On 22 March the NPD is set to launch its election campaign with a Europe congress of its youth wing. Voigt and Rose will be there too. But the location – as with most neo-nazi events – remains a secret.