Germany has taken a decisive step towards banning the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) as the interior ministers of the country’s 16 states formally recommended going ahead with hotly-disputed legal proceedings against it.
Calls for a ban of the NPD, which critics say is inspired by Adolf Hitler’s Nazis, have grown since it emerged last year that a neo-Nazi cell had waged a racist killing spree over nearly a decade.
However, suppressing a political party is a controversial act in Germany, haunted by memories of Nazi and Communist regimes which silenced dissent. An attempt to ban the NPD in 2003 collapsed because informants high in the NPD were used as key witnesses.
The interior ministers of Germany’s states last night announced their recommendation to pursue a ban, which will involve filing a case with the constitutional court in Karlsruhe, Baden-Württemberg.
“We believe we’ve got better evidence against the NPD than in 2003,” interior minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said at a news conference in the Baltic resort of Warnemuende.
“There’s a political risk that we could help revive the fortunes of a party that is already fading,” he said.
“Everyone will have to ask: what will the propaganda value of this be for the NPD?” Lorenz Caffier, the conservative interior minister of Mecklenburg Vorpommern, who chaired the meeting, said the ministers were confident they had enough evidence the NPD was a danger to Germany’s constitution.
“This shows that democracy in Germany is able to defend itself,” Mr Caffier said. “We can prove that the NPD is an anti-constitutional party.”
The opposition Social Democrats (SPD) have pushed for the ban despite reservations from some conservatives, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is worried the NPD could be strengthened if a second bid fails.
Other opponents argue a ban could push the NPD underground and make it more dangerous.
Germany’s domestic intelligence service has described the NPD as “racist, anti-Semitic and revisionist” and says it aims to abolish democracy. The party calls the German constitution a “diktat” imposed by victorious Western powers after 1945.
More radical than populist anti-immigrant parties in France, Britain and the Netherlands, the NPD has seats in two state assemblies in eastern Germany and receives around €1 million per year in taxpayers’ funding.
Believed to have fewer than 10,000 members, it campaigns for full employment, greater national sovereignty in defence and foreign matters and an end to immigration. Critics accuse it of unofficial links to racist and violent groups.
To help the case, German authorities have severed relations with informants in the top levels of the NPD and compiled more than 2,000 pages of evidence to back their case.
The NPD last month filed a case with the court asking it to declare it constitutional, a move widely seen as an attempt to pre-empt any ban. Karlsruhe still has to rule on that.
The ministers’ recommendation needs approval from state governors, expected today, before a vote in the Bundesrat upper house, which represents the 16 states, on 14 December.
It will then take up to three months for the case to be prepared for sending to Karlsruhe. It is unclear whether the court could rule on the case before elections next September