The German state of Saxony wanted to restrict its financial support to groups signing a declaration rejecting extremism and committing everyone they worked with to do the same. But it was considered unconstitutional.
Saxony didn't want to fund extremists right or left
The German state of Saxony will moderate the wording of a declaration designed to ensure that extremists do not get public funding.
The state wanted to make financial support for associations conditional on their readiness to sign a written declaration of loyalty to the German constitution and rejection of any kind of extremism. They also had to guarantee that their partners, speakers and other contributors would also uphold that commitment.
After heavy protests from associations and opposition parties and a report by a German law professor saying that such a declaration would conflict with the German constitution, the state of Saxony announced on Tuesday that it would rework the wording of the statement by January. But Saxony's Interior Minister Markus Ulbig continued to insist that such a declaration is necessary.
"We have a problem with minorities in Saxony who do not base themselves on the constitution," Ulbig said. The anti-extremism statement was implemented to ensure that no government money would benefit extremist groups, he added.
Scrutinizing partners would resemble Stasi methods
After its introduction in November, the declaration met with prompt criticism from groups affected, with some saying the demand that they scrutinize their partners resembled methods used by the Stasi secret police in the former communist East Germany.
The opposition started in November with a group in Pirna rejecting a 10,000 euro ($13,000) prize for democracy, because it did not want to sign the declaration.
Saxony's anti-extremism statement is neccessary, said Ulbig
Other groups echoed the criticism. "It's not the commitment to the constitution that is difficult," said Grit Hanneforth from Kulturbuero Sachsen in an interview with Deutsche Welle. "It is the state forcing us to control our partners. How is that supposed to work? And what are the impacts on cooperation? Presumption of innocence is one of the most important legal principles."
A report by administrative law professor Ulrich Battis also found that the demand that groups check their partners could lead to an atmosphere of distrust. His report argued that the anti-extremism statement was incompatible with the German constitution.
The statement was "too broad," Battis told Deutsche Welle. The anti-extremism statement "was in a good cause, but it had failed in its technical implementation."
Anti-extremism statement came as a surprise
Hanneforth said she was surprised when the demand for an anti-extremism statement came. "Why are projects under scrutiny even though they have been speaking up for democracy for more than ten years?" Hanneforth said her organization had already committed itself to the German constitution as part of its guidelines as a voluntary youth welfare agency.
"When giving out funds, the state is obligated to check how the money is being used," Battis said. The state of Saxony wants to avoid supporting extremist groups. According to Battis, the first sentence of the anti-extremism statement, in which each association declares it is upholding the values of the constitution, would be sufficient. "And if there is a breach of the rules, you can still impose sanctions," he said.
"If you want to make sure that no state money will be used for extremist projects, the state should start to look into private enterprises," Hanneforth said. "There are right-wing extremist companies benefiting from subsidies for small- and medium-sized businesses."
The German Ministry for Family Affairs plans to use the same anti-extremism statement for groups taking part in a program to promote tolerance. A spokesperson said there would be a "linguistic clarification," although it will not touch the statement's core. The ministry will still require the groups to scrutinize their partners.
Author: Sarah Steffen
Editor: Michael Lawton