German authorities have struggled to ban the far-right National Democratic Party. But new efforts by the ruling Christian Democratic Union - and a possible link to a series of murders - have reignited debate about a ban.
It is nine years since a joint effort by Germany's federal government and both houses of parliament failed to outlaw the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD). These are only three bodies that are empowered by the German constitution to make such a move. To do so, they have to submit a request to the Federal Constitutional Court.
But in March 2003, the court threw out a case against the NPD, saying the use of state-sponsored, undercover informants - known in Germany as "V-Leute" - was a violation of a strict law prohibiting interference from the state.
According to the court, it could not determine whether the evidence gathered against the NPD supported the allegations of unconstitutional behavior prior to it being infiltrated by agents, or whether the evidence had solely been gathered once those agents were undercover in the NPD.
The court's decision was not a ruling on whether or not NPD was an unconstitutional group. But it did stop the state’s efforts to have the NPD banned - an embarrassment caused by its own mistakes that compromised the case.
The NPD, meanwhile, celebrated what was seen as a cheap victory - victory over a state which it rejected.
It was clear what the failure of the case meant for any future attempts to ban the party.
For now, though, all the undercover agents would have to be extracted from the party under its own observation.
German interior ministers are regularly metting to fight the NPD
Now, after much hesitation, that is what the interior ministers of Germany's 16 states have finally agreed to do. It would be the first step towards a second attempt to ban the NPD. Germany's interior minister, Hans-Peter Friedrich, has voiced his support for the idea, increasing the chances of it actually happening. Friedrich will have to propose a resolution for deactivating the agents at the next meeting of interior ministers on March 22 in Berlin.
Building a new case
In early 2011, a working group of interior ministers started meeting to gather new material and information, which it hopes constitutional bodies will be able to use to help re-initiate banning procedures against the NPD.
Both in Germany and outside of the country, expectations for new procedures have grown since a series of murders by suspected neo-Nazis came to light late last year. A neo-Nazi gang was found to be behind the murders of nine immigrants and one police officer.
But the murder case alone will not be enough to ban the NPD - unless a strong link to the murders can be established. Authorities will have to demonstrate the party has an "aggressively combative" stance against Germany's free democratic order. But since its founding in 1964, authorities have been unable to prove a connection between the group's roughly 6,600 members and violent neo-Nazis.
Last November, a former NPD official, Ralf Wohlleben, was arrested in connection with the murders. He has been accused of buying a weapon and ammunition for the National Socialist Underground (NSU), the group found responsible for the murders. But legal experts doubt whether individual connections such as this - between violent extremists and the a former member of the NPD - will be sufficient evidence to have the party banned.
If the Germany state succeeds in banning the NPD, the party will be the third to meet that fate. The first was the Socialist Reich Party (SRP) - the successor to Adolf Hitler's Nazi party - which was banned in 1952. Then, the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) was outlawed in 1956, at the height of the Cold War.
Author: Marcel Fürstenau/srs
Editor: Zulfikar Abbany