Germany’s top court starts hearings on banning far-right NPD party

Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands (NPD) party leader Frank Franz (R) and the party's lawyer Peter Richter answer reporters questions on arrival for the start of a trial at the Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe, Germany, March 1, 2016. © Kai Pfaffenbach
Germany’s top court is contemplating banning the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) party after a request was made by the federal upper house which said that the party threatened democracy. It is the first case of its kind in 60 years.

The hearings began on Tuesday in the Federal Constitutional Court in the western German city of Karlsruhe and is set to continue until Thursday.

The constitutional court chief justice started off by saying that there remained many obstacles in the way of the prohibition of any political party.

A party prohibition "is a sharp and double-edged sword that must be used with great caution," Andreas Vosskuhle said, adding that "it limits freedom in order to preserve freedom."

To ban the party, Germany’s 16 states which represent the federal upper house, have to prove to the the court that NPD poses a threat to the democratic order. Those standing in favor of the ban have to convince that the party is igniting a “climate of fear” in Germany and "shares essential characteristics" with the Nazis.

A majority of six out of the panel’s eight judges is required to put a ban on the NPD party, or any of its successor organization.

Chancellor Angela Merkel is said to support the idea although she has not officially joined the initiative. Merkel has previously called the NPD "an anti-democratic, xenophobic, anti-Semitic, anti-constitutional party".

Known for its hardline stance towards refugees, the NPD party previously used slogans, such as “The boat is full” and "Germany for the Germans. Kick asylum fraudsters out!" The far-right activists are said to strongly denounce Germany’s refugee policy and hold protests at what they see as "foreign infiltration". There have been reports about the party members attacking asylum seekers and ruining their shelters.

Critics of the move argue that if banned, the far-right leaders might turn into martyrs and gain a national stage.

The previous attempt to ban the party was made in 2003. It failed since the evidence aimed at undermining the party’s activity was rejected by the judges. The presence of undercover state agents within the party’s ranks made the evidence questionable.

The last time Germany succeeded in banning a political party was 60 years ago. Post-war Germany has banned only two political parties – the SPR, a successor of the Nazi party, in 1952, and the German Communist Party in 1956.

NPD was established in 1964 as a successor to the neo-fascist German Reich Party.

Although the NPD party does not have any seats in Germany’s national government, it is represented in the state assembly of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, East Germany. It also has one seat in the European Parliament.

In 2013 NPD only gained 1.3 percent in federal elections and has never surpassed the five percent limit needed to enter into the national parliament.

There are about 5,200 members in the party.