Germany's NPD beat a constitutional case trying to get them banned this week, although the top court agreed that the far-right party was anti-constitutional. Now, politicians want to cut off the party's state-funding.
It appeared to be a conclusive victory for the National Democratic Party (NPD). Germany's most enduring neo-Nazi party had once again been taken to Germany's highest court, and for the second time the Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe decided that the party could not be banned.
But even as the NPD was posting its "2-0 for Germany: victory for freedom of speech!" declarations on its website, politicians and legal experts were combing the 300-page ruling for vital details. It turned out that the message the constitutional judges gave the Bundesrat (the upper house of the German parliament, which brought the case) was: "We can't ban them, but you can choke them financially."
For one thing, the judges made clear that the NPD was a racist, anti-constitutional organization. "The National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) advocates a concept aimed at abolishing the existing free democratic order," the court statement began. "The NPD intends to replace the existing constitutional system with an authoritarian national state that adheres to the idea of an ethnically defined 'people's community' (Volksgemeinschaft)."
Not only that, the court continued, "the NPD acts in a systematic manner and with sufficient intensity towards achieving its aims that are directed against the free democratic order."
Turning off the money faucet
But that was not enough to ban the party, the court decided. As he read the verdict, top judge and Constitutional Court President Andreas Vosskuhle expressly suggested that there may be "other reaction possibilities" to counter the NPD, though it was up to lawmakers to actually make a decision.
Politicians were quick to respond to the signal. "Tax funding for the NPD is a direct state investment in far-right radical hate speech," Justice Minister Heiko Maas told the "Rheinische Post" newspaper.
A series of regional ministers echoed those sentiments. "The question of their financing through tax money has increased significantly in importance," observed Thuringian Interior Minister Holger Poppenhäger. Turning off the money faucet was now "vitally necessary," added his Bavarian counterpart Joachim Herrmann - it was high time that "the parliamentary Bundestag factions dealt with this issue," he said.
Not only that, added Lorenz Caffier, interior minister in the northeastern state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, it would not do to just introduce a new law - what Germany needed was a constitutional amendment specifically excluding all anti-constitutional parties from state financing.
At this point, the socialist Left party piped up. "We don't know in what political constellations we'll be talking about this in ten years' time," warned Frank Tempel, interior policy spokesman for the Left party, which has been accused of harboring anti-constitutional far-leftists in the past.
"If you try to remove a political opponent in this way, it would be politically dubious," he told the DPA news agency. He was backed up by constitutional law professor Hans Herbert von Arnim, who told DPA, "I'm afraid that such a constitutional amendment would not be limited to the NPD, but could be stretched out to all the parties that don't sit in parliament."
Bavarian Interior Minister Herrmann was among many politicians who suggested Germany should find a way to cut off state financing
Under the current law, all German political parties are entitled to state financing if they get at least 0.5 percent of the vote in a general election or a European election, or at least one percent in a state regional election. If they meet those benchmarks, they receive one euro ($1.06) of taxpayer's money for each of their first four million votes, and then 83 cents for each vote on top of that. Not only that, the state gives the party an extra 45 cents for every euro it receives in membership fees or donations.
This has been vital to the NPD: parliamentary records show that the party - which got 1.3 percent of the national vote in the 2013 general election - received some 1.3 million euros from the state in 2015. That suggests over 40 percent of its yearly three-million-euro budget is state-financed.
As legal experts like von Arnim warned, shutting off that revenue stream is a lot more difficult than it might seem, though Heidelberg-based constitutional lawyer Uwe Lipinski said it needn't necessarily be a problem. "I'd have strong reservations about doing it by making a simple law - that would be risky," he told DW. "Both the NPD and all elements of the Left see themselves as conforming to the constitution, and certainly abuse would be possible if it came down to a political decision."
But in a court, where the party in question was able to make objections and bring evidence, there may be a way to cut off state financing to an anti-constitutional party. "If you made an amendment dependent on a Karlsruhe verdict, you'd be on the safe side," said Lipinski. "I don't think it should be a problem if you formulate the amendment so that really only the parties and party elements are affected who the constitutional court has defined as anti-constitutional."