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Germany's far-right AfD lands major victory

June 9, 2020

Germany’s Interior Minister Horst Seehofer had accused the populist right-wing party of undermining the state. The top Court ruled that the publication of his statement on the ministry's homepage was a breach of law.

Horst Seehofer (CSU) Bundesinnenminister
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Skolimowska

In an interview published also on the Interior Ministry's homepage, Horst Seehofer had accused the AfD of working to undermine the state, labelling it "a corrosive for the state." The Alternative for Germany (AfD) took the matter to court, saying that he had hereby violated the neutrality of his office, and on Tuesday the Constitutional Court ruled in the party's favor.

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, the court ruled, had committed "an infringement of the principle of equality of opportunity" which requires government bodies remain neutral towards all political parties.

This constitutes a major symbolic victory for the far-right party.

Horst Seehofer is not known for pulling his punches. After all, Germany's interior minister hails from the southern state of Bavaria, the home of beer-tent politics. The Bavarians are proud of speaking their minds and have no inhibitions about playing it rough with their political rivals. Nobody in AfD ranks would be the least bit surprised to see Horst Seehofer dealing out "punch” lines against the backdrop of a good old-fashioned beer tent.

But in September 2018 the fun was up. The AfD believed that Seehofer had gone too far and moved to challenge his latest attack in Germany's Constitutional Court. So, what exactly had happened? Seehofer had given an interview to the German news agency dpa in which he launched a no-holds-barred attack on the right-wing party. But what really got the AfD hackles up was the fact that the interview was published on the interior ministry's homepage.

Read more: German far-right in crisis

And what precisely had Seehofer said? Well, he charged the AfD with nothing less than "undermining the state." That comment came in response to an AfD attack on Germany's Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, accusing him of neglecting his constitutional duty to remain politically neutral.

That attack had in turn been triggered by an appeal made by  Steinmeier in support of a concert against racism in the eastern ciy of Chemnitz, where a knife incident had left a man dead and sparked days of tensions and far-right violence.

Seehofer's criticism, meanwhile, was part of a longer interview focusing on the general work of the interior ministry.

The interview that Horst Seehofer gave to dpa was published in part or in its entirety by a number of newspapers across Germany. Which means that the key question for the court was: how to interpret the decision to additionally publish the interview on the ministry's homepage?

The court ruled that the government must apply "due objectivity."

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