A German Supreme Court ruling meant to protect democratic values has paved the way for extremist and anti-democratic parties to win seats in the May EU Parliament elections.
While parties still need to get 5 per cent of the vote to win seats in German legislative bodies, the court found in favour of groups who claim that the existing 3 per cent hurdle for the EU Parliament is anti-democratic.
The ruling amends a German court decision in 2011 which reduced the threshold for European elections from 5 to 3 per cent in response to a challenge by fringe parties. But these parties naturally wanted the lowest possible threshold and challenged that ruling, too.
As a result, a German party can get a seat in the EU Parliament with just 1 per cent of the national vote.
Among those celebrating is Germany’s main neo-Nazi party, the National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD), which is promoting former chairman Udo Voigt and military historian Olaf Rose as its EU Parliament candidates.
On its website, the party rejects the Western-oriented “unipolar world order” — in other words, the EU. And yet it proclaims proudly that there is “no doubt that the NPD will move into the European Parliament at the end of May”.
Numerous German political and religious leaders have argued that the NPD is racist, antisemitic and anti-democratic and should be banned.
A banning attempt in 2003 failed, when the German Supreme Court revealed that informants had actually instigated some of the very transgressions under investigation. Skeptics say another failed banning attempt would be an embarrassment to Germany. Now though, Germany faces a potentially even greater embarrassment: the chance that a homegrown neo-Nazi party could have a voice on the EU level even though it has failed to gain such prominence at home. The NPD so far has only managed to win a few seats in German state legislatures.
The domestic elections hurdle of 5 per cent was designed to prevent small parties from banding together and blocking the democratic process, as happened in 1933 when Hitler was elected without actually gaining a majority.
Last year a study for the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, a German conservative think tank, and the Centre for European Studies (CES) warned that xenophobic, far-right and populist parties could take more than 25 per cent of the EU parliament seats in May, if a concerted effort is not made to oppose them.
With the recent Supreme Court decision, this warning takes on even greater urgency.