BERLIN — Germany’s top court ruled in favor of cutting state funding for an extreme-right party in a decision that is likely to further fuel an already strident debate in the country about whether legal steps should be taken to rein in the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD).
In a landmark ruling Tuesday, the Constitutional Court said state financing for a marginal, extremist party known as Die Heimat, or The Homeland — previously known as the National Democratic Party or NPD — could be cut because the party “shows disdain for the free democratic basic order” and aims to replace German democracy with an authoritarian state based on Nazi-era notions of a racially unified Volksgemeinschaft, or “people’s community.”
The decision is amplifying an impassioned debate in Germany about whether to undertake a legal effort to counter the AfD. For weeks, politicians have weighed in on the possibility of an outright prohibition of the party. Tuesday’s court decision is now sparking discussion on the possibility of revoking the party’s state funding.
The court decision “would also be a blueprint for the AfD,” Markus Söder, the conservative Bavarian premier, said in an interview with German newspaper Handelsblatt ahead of the ruling.
The domestic debate about what to do about the AfD has grown all the more intense since a report earlier this month revealed that members of party were present at a secret meeting of right-wing extremists in a hotel near the city of Potsdam in which a “master plan” to deport foreigners and “unassimilated citizens” en masse was discussed. Many in Germany drew parallels to similar plans made by the Nazis.
That revelation prompted huge protests in Germany against right-wing radicalism and the AfD in recent days. Last weekend alone, hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets in cities across Germany. In Berlin, demonstrators assembled in front of the Bundestag and chanted: “All of Berlin hates the AfD!”
The AfD has continued to rise in polls even as it has steadily become more extreme. The party is now polling at 23 percent, according to POLITICO’s Poll of Polls, and in the regions of the former East Germany, where three state elections will be held in September, the party is leading.
Germany’s constitution has long allowed for the prohibition of parties that “seek to undermine or abolish the free democratic basic order.” In 2017, lawmakers amended the constitution to make possible the revocation of state funding for such parties. Tuesday’s ruling marks the first time the law was put into practice.
The legal possibility of banning or revoking a party’s funding is an outgrowth of Germany’s Nazi past. In Tuesday’s ruling, the court referred to the notion of Germany as a “militant democracy,” a rough concept that means the state has legal means to restrict the freedoms of authoritarian parties to prevent them from using instruments of democracy to gain power.
The legal hurdles for banning or cutting state funding for a party remain very high. In 2017, Germany’s top court decided against a ban of the NPD, arguing that, while the party intended to undermine democracy, it was so marginal it had no chance of actually doing so.
In 2021, the party did so poorly in the federal election that it lost state funding. Prior to that, however, the party received considerable amounts of state money; in 2016, for instance, the party received €1.1 million. Tuesday’s ruling ensures it cannot get funding for a six-year period.
“Even if the constitutional hurdles for future proceedings remain high, we now have another instrument to protect our democracy,” said Germany’s interior minister, Nancy Faeser, following the ruling.
Many mainstream politicians fear that any effort to ban the AfD or restrict its funding would be a dire tactical mistake, serving only to strengthen the party by allowing its leaders to depict their opponents as suppressing the democratic will of AfD voters.