The German government is taking steps to ban one of its most prominent far-right political parties despite doubts that the measure will succeed.
Interior ministers of Germany’s 16 states and the federal interior minister unanimously backed the efforts to ban the National Democratic Party, Germany’s only significant far-right party, on the grounds that it champions a xenophobia, racist, and antisemitic agenda, all violations of the country’s post-war constitution.
There is also renewed interest in banning the NPD, as it is known by its German initials, due to the recent news that the neo-Nazi National Socialist Underground was responsible for a seven-year-long killing spree of Germans of Turkish and Greek origin. The NPD is suspected of being the political wing of the NSU, although it denies having any links.
The NPD currently holds seats in two state parliaments, those of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Saxony, in former East Germany. Neo-Nazi activity is highest in the east of the country.
Any efforts to completely ban the NPD face an uphill battle. The Federal Constitutional Court is the only body capable of banning a political party in Germany, and it rejected a prior ban attempt under former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.
The previous effort to ban the NPD in 2003 ended due to the revelation that much of the evidence collected against the party came from federally funded informants. The attempted ban led to a surge in electoral support for the party and enormous embarrassment for Mr Schroeder’s government.
Daphne Halikiopoulou, a lecturer in government at the University of Reading and expert on far-right politics, thinks that banning the NPD may create further problems.
“Banning extreme right-wing parties is tricky as it could have a backlash. Germany is a unique case of course because of its experience with Nazism, so there is more justification for doing this,” Ms Halikiopoulou said.
German government officials expressed concern that the renewed efforts to ban the NPD could end as the 2003 attempt did. Justice Minister Sabine Leutheuser-Schnarrenberger, speaking to the daily newspaper Die Welt, said that the potential for failure was “not necessarily less” than that of the effort conducted by Schroeder’s government.
A poll conducted earlier in 2012 said that while 77 per cent of Germans supported the ban, 75 per cent doubted that it would make a significant difference on neo-Nazi activity in Germany.
Dieter Graumann, the President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, welcomed the efforts to ban the NPD.
Speaking to Reuters, Mr Graumann said: It's high time that the unspeakable activities of the NPD be brought to an end. It's simply unbearable that right-wing extremists get taxpayer money to spread their propaganda.”