The upper house of the German parliament wants to ban the NPD, but it's not supported by the government. The lower house, the Bundestag, has debated the issue, and it's refused to back a ban.
The far-right National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) is widely accused of being racist, anti-Semitic and anti-foreigner; it's said to want to overthrow the German constitution, including the fundamental rights enshrined in it. For this reason, the upper house of the German parliament, the Bundesrat, which represents the country's 16 states, decided at the end of last year to try to get the party banned.
But it has been unable to win the support of the government or the Bundestag, the lower house of parliament. They say that a ban is the wrong way to fight the party. The Bundestag debated a ban on Thursday (25.04.2013), but, as expected, it rejected the idea.
Already failed once
It was different in 2001, when all three - government, Bundesrat and Bundestag - applied jointly to the constitutional court for a ban. Two years later, the court threw the application out - it said that many of the unconstitutional statements that were being brought in evidence were actually coming from government-financed informers. These informers were being paid by the intelligence services to spy on the top levels of the NPD.
"You can only ban a party if it offends against the constitution," says Hajo Funke, an expert on the far right and a former professor at the Free University of Berlin. That can only be the case if the party is independent of the state: "If the informers are dependent on state actions, that's enough to stop the case."
As a result, the court never even began to consider whether the party was indeed working against the constitution.
This time, everything is supposed to be different. The conference of interior ministers at federal and state level agreed in 2011 to try for a ban, and it began to prepare the ground for a formal application.
"The interior ministers' conference was the motor for this development," says the interior minister of the north-western city-state of Bremen, Ulrich Mäurer. All the informers were removed from the leadership of the NPD, in order to ensure that the same mistake wasn't made again.
Mäurer says the ministers want the ban so that the party no longer benefits from public subsidies and it will be harder for it to distribute its propaganda. They've assembled 1,000 pages of evidence "which show very clearly the spirit which rules this party."
What will a ban achieve?
Funke believes that it will be perfectly possible to ban the NPD, but he thinks that the end of the NPD will not mean the end of the problem: "I find it much more important to stop the daily terror carried out by neo-Nazis," he says. "That amounts to about 1,000 acts of violence a year."
The refusal by the government to support the attempt to ban the party stems particularly from the opposition of the smaller coalition partner, the Free Democrats (FDP). The party chairman, Phillip Rösler, said they wouldn't support it "because you can't ban stupidity."
Maurer regrets that the the Christian Democrats (CDU), the main party in the coalition, has given way to the FDP: "We hoped of course that the government and the Bundestag would join us, but it's a problem that opinion in the CDU is very divided. At the federal level, the CDU has always been very considerate of the views of its coalition partner, the FDP, who have been against it from the start." But he says he knows that his counterparts in the eastern German states are having serious problems with the NPD, and they would very much welcome a ban.
All the same, he thinks, the public debate over a ban is itself valuable. It makes it clear to the public that the NPD is not accepted by any of the democratic parties in Germany.
"We've put right the mistakes we made on our first attempt," he says. "Of course there's always a certain risk, but it's important that one undertakes something. The worst thing would be to do nothing at all."