Germany’s biggest far-right party, which once fuelled fears of a neo-Nazi surge, is now in the doldrums.
While some other European countries such as France and Greece are seeing a rise in the far right, the National Democratic Party was last week booted out of parliament in Saxony, one of only two German states where it had elected politicians.
The resulting loss of some €2.5 million (£2m) each year in public funding, which critics have said the NPD used to finance campaigns in other states, could crush a party regarded just a few years ago as a magnet for neo-Nazi sentiment in Germany and a threat to the country’s post-war reputation.
“This could be the beginning of the end for the party as a political force,” said Dr Hendrik Traeger, a political scientist at Leipzig University. “Saxony was their stronghold.”
It was in the eastern German state that the NPD received 9.2 per cent of the vote in 2004, shocking Germany’s political establishment and raising the spectre of the country’s Nazi past. The election gave the party 12 seats in the state parliament, a public platform to spread its ideas along with dozens of jobs for far-right activists. Despite the money, the party had little impact in Saxony, according to Dr Werner J Patzelt, a political scientist at the Technical University Dresden.
“The NPD failed to fulfil any of the hopes its voters had, it didn’t have any credible representatives and skidded from one scandal to another,” Dr Patzelt said.
Its former leader in Saxony once referred to Israel as a “Jewish criminal state,” party politicians refused to honour a minute’s silence for victims of the Holocaust, and one deputy calling for the use of hand grenades against “Zionists,” a common far-right synonym for Jews.
Apart from Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, another eastern state, the NPD failed to emulate its success in Saxony.
At the national level, the party has not received more than 1.6 per cent in the last decade – far less than the 5 per cent needed to enter parliament.
Still, the NPD’s limited success was enough for other parties to seek a judicial review that could see it banned for pursuing unconstitutional aims.
Germany’s domestic intelligence service has long warned that “the NPD aims to abolish the free democratic order” and its positions “show parallels to the programs of the original National Socialists.” Meanwhile, the NPD’s decline in Saxony has been hastened by the rise of a new party, Alternative for Germany, which has attracted some socially conservative voters who previously voted for the far right by promising to restrict immigration and promote Christian family values.
Alternative for Germany received 9.7 per cent in last week’s vote, taking more than 10,000 votes from the NPD. The far-right party fell just 809 votes short of the 5 per cent threshold as a result.
The NPD’s fate contrasts with that of other far-right movements in Europe. In France, the National Front got 26 per cent of the vote in May’s European elections. In Greece, the Golden Dawn party saw 18 politicians elected in 2012.
But unlike France and Greece, Germany is going through a period of economic prosperity.
Holger Szymanski, the NPD leader in Saxony, said shortly after the vote: “The NPD will use all available legal means to determine the real election result.”