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Far-right AfD could be next after German court defunds neo-Nazi party

By AFP - Jan 23,2024 - Last updated at Jan 23,2024

Doris Koenig (left), vice-president of Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) and chairman of the court’s Second Senate, on Tuesday (AFP photo)

BERLIN — Germany’s constitutional court on Tuesday approved a request to withdraw public funds from the neo-Nazi Homeland Party, offering what one official called a possible “blueprint” for action against the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD).

The verdict comes as Germany debates how to counter the rising popularity of the AfD, which is under close surveillance by domestic intelligence after being classed a “suspected case of far-right extremism”.

Homeland, known until 2023 as the NPD, was “excluded from state funding for a period of six years”, the court said.

In its reasoning, the court said Homeland sought to “eliminate the free democratic order” and had a “racist, in particular anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic and anti-Gypsy, attitude” that clashed with Germany’s constitutional principles.

The neo-Nazi group would therefore lose access to state funding available to parties, as well as any tax breaks.

The ruling was a “confirmation of the pathway to not offering much space to the enemies of freedom”, Chancellor Olaf Scholz told journalists.

“The forces that want to dismantle and destroy our democracy must not receive a cent of government funding,” Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said.

The AfD currently sits second in national polls, and is leading them in several eastern regions where elections are set to be held later this year.

 

‘Confirmed’ extremist 

 

Markus Soeder, the conservative premier of the southern region of Bavaria, said ahead of the ruling that withdrawing funds from Homeland could be a “blueprint” for dealing with the growing threat from AfD.

Three of the party’s regional branches — in the eastern states of Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia — are classed as “confirmed” extremist organisations for their efforts to undermine democracy and their anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Over the weekend, hundreds of thousands of people came out to protest against the AfD after its members were revealed to have discussed a mass deportation plan at a meeting with extremists.

The mooted mass deportation plan was “an attack on the foundations of our society”, Faeser said.

“Right-wing extremism is the greatest extremist threat to our democracy — and to people in our country,” added Faeser. 

Withdrawing public funding was “another instrument” to defend democracy, Faeser told journalists at a press conference, while refusing to rule out a similar move against the AfD.

Some government figures have urged caution, however, and warned against giving the AfD material for an anti-establishment campaign.

Failed ban 

 

The challenge to the AfD needed to be “political”, while any action should be limited to the “constitutionally necessary and possible”, Finance Minister Christian Lindner told broadcaster Welt TV.

The parties of the “democratic centre” should not give the impression that they “want to use party law to fend off unwanted competition”, Lindner said.

The request to exclude Homeland from state financing was made in 2019 by the German government, together with the upper and lower houses of the German parliament. 

A previous attempt to ban the party outright in 2017 failed, when the constitutional court in Karlsruhe said the then NPD was not a real enough threat to be prohibited.

The German constitution was subsequently amended to introduce the possibility of withdrawing state funds.

Public money flows to any party in Germany that scores at least 0.5 per cent in national or European elections, or 1 per cent in regional votes.

Homeland, which was long a small but significant minority party under the NPD brand, has seen its following dwindle and dropped below the support threshold to be eligible for public funds. 

But the party has still benefitted from tax advantages available to political parties, such as exemptions for donations.

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