German state premiers have agreed to pursue a ban on the far-right NPD party. The legal proceedings that will ensue are highly controversial in light of Germany's Nazi history.
The state premiers on Thursday voted in favor of fresh moves to ban the NPD - often described as the post-war successor to Hitler's National Socialists.
The last attempt to ban the party was quashed in the Constitutional Court in 2003. The federal government and both the lower and upper houses of parliament - the Bundestag and the Bundesrat - are all eligible to apply for a ban against a party; this latest attempt is designed to make the appeal from all three places simultaneously with a view to strengthening the case.
Leading figures from every mainstream party have voiced support for the bid, albeit with a few dissenting voices. Christian Democrat chairman of the parliamentary interior committee, Wolfgang Bosbach, on Wednesday warned that a high profile bid to ban the party might provide it with much-needed publicity at a time when its popularity - and budget - is at rock bottom anyway.
"The NPD is in extreme difficulty. With another attempted ban, we would put it back in center stage in the public debate," Bosbach warned.
Nationwide, the NPD polls well below the 5-percent hurdle required to guarantee parliamentary representation, though it is strong in some states and municipalities - especially in the former East. The party also targets its campaigns towards those areas where it polls less poorly.
A constitutional question
The latest political effort to outlaw Germany's far-right NPD party is likely to face the same hurdle as its predecessors: Article 21 of the country's constitution.
"Political parties shall participate in the formation of the political will of the people," the first item states, followed immediately by: "They may be freely established."
The next sentence, however, provides the caveat most German mainstream parties cite as cause to ban the neo-Nazi group.
"Their internal organization must conform to democratic principles," Item 3 states, followed later by: "Parties that, by reason of their aims or the behavior of their adherents, seek to undermine or abolish the free democratic basic order or to endanger the existence of the Federal Republic of Germany shall be unconstitutional."
Article 21, which also stipulates that such a decision always resides with the Constitutional Court, seeks to walk the tightrope of ensuring free political will and protecting it. The paradox is rooted in Germany's Weimar Republic, once lauded as one of the most forward-thinking democracies of the age, which was ultimately reduced to totalitarianism by Adolf Hitler's National Socialists. Critics of the NPD point to that party as the Nazis' modern-day successor.
There is one legal precedent for outlawing a party in post-war Germany. The Communist Party of Germany (KPD) was abolished by the Constitutional Court in 1956 - against the backdrop of a recently-divided Germany and concerns of a Soviet spread to the west - on the basis of Article 21.
If a political request to ban the NPD were to materialize, and subsequently be approved by the Constitutional Court, the NPD might still lodge an appeal at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
msh,tj/dr (AFP, dpa, Reuters)