Bid to outlaw German far-right NPD crosses first hurdle
A request to ban Germany's neo-Nazi fringe party the NPD crossed a first hurdle Wednesday when the highest court rejected party claims it was being infiltrated by state undercover informants.
"The court has had very extensive consultations" on the point, said Constitutional Court chief justice Andreas Vosskuhle. "An obstacle to the proceedings does not exist."
The presence of such secret sources within top NPD ranks had scuppered a first attempt to outlaw it in 2003 because it was seen to have sullied evidence against the openly xenophobic party.
Security services say they have now withdrawn or "deactivated" the informants.
The new bid to ban the ultranationalist NPD and seize its assets was launched by the Bundesrat upper house of parliament, which represents Germany's 16 states.
The case argues that the party threatens the democratic order, holds an "aggressive and combative attitude", has created a "climate of fear" and "shares essential characteristics" with the Nazis.
The case comes at a time when a record influx of refugees and migrants has polarised German society, and as the number of racist hate crimes has surged.
The legal hurdles are high to ban any political party, something Germany last did in 1956 when the top court outlawed the German Communist Party.
On Wednesday, the second day of hearings, judges questioned whether the NPD -- which has some 5,200 members and scored just 1.3 percent in national elections in 2013 -- really does threaten German democracy.
Six of the panel's eight judges would have to agree to a ban, which the NPD would likely challenge before the European Court of Justice.
After the last scheduled day of hearings Thursday, the court plans to give the NPD six weeks to formulate a response, before the court reconvenes. A verdict is expected to be months away.
In Thursday's hearings, one judge, Sybille Kessal-Wulf, said that violence associated with NPD supporters could be a "helpful criterium" to prove that a ban is needed.
Bundesrat lawyer Christoph Moellers also pointed to intimidating NPD rallies staged outside the homes of political opponents.
Judge Peter Landau, however, asked whether such incidents should not be primarily blamed on police inaction and the "state's failure to protect" the public.
Critics say the high-profile case gives the NPD a national stage, and worry that a ban could turn its leaders into martyrs for their racist cause.
The NPD has one seat in the European parliament. It is also represented in one state assembly and more than 300 municipal councils, mostly in Germany's formerly communist east, which still lags behind the west in terms of jobs and prosperity.
© 2016 AFP