Germany considering ban on neo-Nazi party
Banning a political party is no easy task in Germany, not even when it concerns the neonazi National Democratic Party (NPD).
The 49-year old party has become increasingly radicalised. Last year it was suspected of being linked to a terrorist cell responsible for the killing of eight Turkish and one Greek immigrant between 2000 and 2006. The revelation galvanised politics and society and rekindled the debate on whether to outlaw the NPD.
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In December, interior ministers from all of Germany's regions decided to ask the Constitutional Court to ban the party.
It is the second such attempt. A similar demand was rejected by the Constitutional Court in 2003.
The court at the time found that the party was infiltrated by too many government spies and informants. This time around, the interior ministers argue they have constructed their legal challenge without using spies and mostly from public records.
But the federal government has yet to throw its weight behind the challenge.
Justice minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger warned that the "risks of failure have not necessarily decreased since the first ban attempt" and that the government should "weigh carefully" whether to join the bid.
"The government will decide in March whether it will put forward a request to ban the NPD. There are constant discussions about it in the government," Georg Streiter, a spokesman for chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday (11 January).
Bundestag chairman Norbert Lammert, from Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, last week said it would be "politically unwise" to ban the party because it would give it unnecessary attention.
Oskar Niedermayer, a politics professor at the Free University in Berlin, agrees that the ban request is a "double-edged sword."
"I am not a hundred percent convinced the Constitutional Court will find enough evidence to ban the party," he said in a briefing with foreign journalists in Berlin on Tuesday.
"It is not enough for them to have a non-democratic programme - that would be still guaranteed by the freedom of opinion. The only thing that matters is to have juridical evidence that the party as such - not one or two members - is actively pursuing to topple the democratic order in the country. That is very hard to prove," he added.
He also said that other extremist groups like The Right have signalled they would take in NPD members if the party was struck down.
"Right-wing extremist views will not disappear with a party ban. It will only make it probably even harder to fight as they would go underground and be suspicious of any infiltrations by the secret service."
Challenge in Strasbourg court
As for the NPD, its leaders claim to be the victim of an anti-democratic procedure proving the "dictatorial" traits of the current government.
They have also threatened to go to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg if the ban is approved.
But Gideon Bosch, a researcher on right-wing extremism at Potsdam University, says the Strasbourg challenge would not have much impact on the potential ban.
"The biggest fear is that a verdict by the ECHR would be formulated in a way that the NPD could never be banned. But the Strasbourg court doesn't even have this right," he told journalists in Berlin last week.
In its previous rulings on party bans - such as the one against Batasuna, the political arm of the militant ETA group in Spain - the Strasbourg court said there needs to be a convincing and compelling reason as well as a pressing social need for the ban.
For Bosch, this is the case with the NPD, which has become more radical in the last decade compared to the1960s when they were founded.
"The NPD is responsible for racist violence because they are instigating it, especially in east German regions. I think the ban would damage the extreme right, because the NPD is their only party at federal level and this would set them back for years," Bosch said.