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Germany's AfD to be classified a right-wing extremist group?

March 11, 2024

Alternative for Germany (AfD) is expecting a verdict in its legal fight against the country's domestic intelligence service (BfV). Will it be placed under investigation as a suspected right-wing extremist group?

Anti-AfD protester with a sign on her hat on which the letters AfD are crossed out
The far-right populist Alternative for Germany is expecting a court decision in its battle with the domestic intelligence serviceImage: Jacob Schröter/dpa/picture alliance

For years now, the political party Alternative for Germany (AfD) and Germany's domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), have been meeting in court on a regular basis. At issue is whether the BfV can legally investigate the party on suspicion of anti-constitutional activities.

Their next face-off will take place at the Higher Administrative Court (OVG) in Münster on March 12th and 13th.

The AfD is challenging a 2021 ruling that placed it under investigation as a suspected right-wing extremist party. That designation came after the BfV, which previously deemed the AfD a so-called "case of interest," found the party had become increasingly radicalized. The prior label had meant that only publicly available information could be evaluated in determining the AfD's potential threat to democracy.

At that time, the domestic intelligence service could do no more than anyone else: read articles in newspapers and online portals, watch TV reports and videos on the Internet, and listen to speeches by AfD members in front of parliament and at party congresses. But what the BfV observed was enough for it to reclassify the AfD as a "suspected case."

How much do neo-Nazi views influence Germany's AfD?

That classification enables authorities to use secret methods to monitor the party and its members, for instance by recruiting AfD members and individuals associated with it as confidential informants, or "trusted persons." Under some circumstances, telecommunications may also be monitored.

A successful AfD appeal at the Higher Administrative Court would put an end to such surveillance.

Meanwhile, the BfV intends to go even further by classifying the AfD as a "proven right-wing extremist" group at the federal level, rather than leaving it a subject of extended investigation to verify suspicion.

Regional AfD chapters in the states of Thuringia, Saxony, and Saxony-Anhalt have already been reclassified as such.

Debates about banning the AfD

Now, more than ever, members who have been classified as "proven right-wing extremists" can expect to be targeted by the intelligence services.

Should the AfD lose its legal appeal, a push to ban the party would likely commence. The BfV has laid out specific requirements for such a move, according to which there must be "factual reference points" demonstrating that a party intends to attack and do away with the free and democratic constitutional order in Germany.

"At this point, a procedure to ban the party would still have to identify a n element that is actively militant, in other words, that acts according to a plan," said the president of the Thuringian BfV, Stephan Kramer, at an event last week, stressing: "For this to happen, it is not necessary that any crimes have been committed."

When can a political party be banned in Germany?

No more tax money for the AfD?

Legally, it is the Federal Constitutional Court that must rule on whether a party can be banned. A ban request can be submitted by the federal government, the Bundestag, or the Bundesrat.

In the city-state of Bremen, the governing coalition parties — the Social Democrats (SPD), the Greens, and the Left Party — are preparing to do just that.

However, a majority of Germans are skeptical: in February 2024, 51% were against banning the AfD, according to the monthly survey by pollster infratest-dimap.

Another way to weaken a party's strength would be to disqualify it from government funding. This is the main source of income for most parties, in addition to membership fees and donations.

Whether this is possible, however, is a question on which experts are just as divided as they are about the question of the chances of a successful ban.

This article was originally written in German.

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Marcel Fürstenau
Marcel Fürstenau Berlin author and reporter on current politics and society.