The far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) faces a possible bid to outlaw it on the grounds that it has an extremist manifesto that challenges Germany's democratic constitution. The country's domestic intelligence agency has described it as a "racist, anti-Semitic, revisionist" party bent on removing democracy and forming a Fourth Reich.
Last year's revelation that a neo-Nazi terror group murdered nine immigrants shopkeepers and a policewoman in a killing spree that had baffled police for over a decade triggered demands for a general crackdown on right-wing extremism, as part of which the government is reviewing the possibility of a new attempt to outlaw the NPD after a first bid failed in 2003.
Pressure for a ban also grew after it emerged that the former spokesman for the NPD in Thuringia, Ralf Wohlleben, allegedly helped the terrorists.
Now the NPD has made an attempt to pre-empt a ban by taking the unprecedented step of requesting that the country's top court, the Federal Constitutional Court, review its constitutionality and confirm that it poses no danger to democracy.
In a statement, the party said its chairman, Holger Apfel, had filed a motion with the court "to ascertain that the National Democratic Party of Germany is not unconstitutional under Article 21, Paragraph 2 of the Basic Law."
The motion also asked the court to ascertain that the NPD's own rights were being undermined by repeated claims that it was unconstitutional.
A spokesman for the court confirmed that it had received the motion and said no party had ever made such a request before. He said it was an open question when the judges might decide on the motion.
Politicians from mainstream parties said the motion was likely to be rejected. Ralf Jäger, the interior minister of the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia, said it was "a transparent and brazen attempt to mislead the public."
Uwe Schünemann, the interior minister of the northern state of Lower Saxony, called the move "pure populism."
Thomas Oppermann, a lawmaker for the opposition Social Democratic Party, said it was high time the government launched its case to outlaw the NPD.
"We should demonstrate great determination against the NPD. The chances of success for ban proceedings are better than ever," Oppermann said in a statement. "One thousand pages of usable evidence prove the NPD is anti-Semitic, anti-democratic and in parts ready to commit violence."
A previous attempt to outlaw the party failed in 2003 because the presence of government informants in the party's ranks led the Constitutional Court, the body which has to decide on a ban, to throw out the case on the grounds that NPD policies were being shaped in part by government agents.
Doubts Whether Ban Can Succeed
To prepare the ground for a new ban attempt, authorities have severed ties with informants. But some politicians including Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, remain skeptical about the prospects for a new case and warn that another failure would strengthen the NPD, just as it did in 2003.
Volker Beck, a lawmaker for the Greens, said the NPD was rightly deemed to be hostile to the constitution. But he added: "In the end, the question will have to be clarified whether the NPD is in a position to endanger our democracy now. And that's a question that's not so easy to answer in the affirmative."
The party is represented in two state assemblies, in Saxony and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Its nationwide ratings are negligible, however, and it has never cleared the 5 percent hurdle to enter into the federal parliament in Berlin.
Friedrich and the interior ministers of Germany's 16 regional states are expected to decide in early December whether to go ahead with a ban attempt.