Germany Takes on the Neo-Nazis If We Can't Ban 'em, Let's Bankrupt 'em

Germany's interior ministers have faced frustrating setbacks fighting the far-right in court. A new tactic under consideration involves hitting organizations that support the party where it really hurts -- in the wallet.

For four years, ever since a 2003 push to ban the neo-Nazi party NPD failed in Germany's high court, political leaders have been looking for a strategy to combat the country's extremist right wing. But ideas -- most of them centering on a renewed attempt at prohibiting the party -- have been wanting, and action has been virtually non-existent.

On this Thursday and Friday in Berlin, though, interior ministers from Germany's 16 states will discuss a plan to weaken the NPD by eliminating state funding from foundations and organizations that espouse the party's right-extremist views. It is time, many believe, to move beyond a commitment to banning the party and begin looking for ways to make the lives of Germany's neo-Nazis more difficult.

"We have to publicly stigmatize people who fund the NPD and the associations that support it," Schleswig-Holstein Interior Minister Ralf Stegner (SPD) told the Süddeutsche Zeitung. "We should name by name the trade organizations that recruit using their right-extremist ideology and that prefer to give apprenticeship positions to young neo-Nazis. We should not stand back and be polite about this."

The problem, say many, is that the NPD, as a legal political party in Germany, receives federal and state funding based on election results. NPD representatives in the state parliaments of Saxony and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, for example, got a combined €1.38 million for campaign costs in 2006.

Germany's Social Democrats are still in favor of a second attempt at banning the NPD, but have not pushed hard for the idea at the federal level. The Christian Democrats under Chancellor Angela Merkel fear that a second failure in German courts could give the NPD a boost and are against pursuing a ban.

"If we wage a second attempt, we have to be sure that we're going to accomplish our goal," Saxony's Interior Minister Albrecht Buttolo (CDU) told Deutschlandradio Kultur on Thursday.

There are numerous ideas on the table for cutting funds to the right. In Saxony, for example, the law requires that subsidies be paid to foundations and organizations if the party they are affiliated with has been represented in the federal or state parliament for two legislative periods. Since 2004, NPD has held seats in Saxony's state assembly and has founded an "Educational Institute for Homeland and National Identity."

Berlin Interior Minister Ehrhart Körting, who is heading the conference in Berlin, proposes seeking countrywide legislation that forbids states from providing financial support to organizations "opposed to the constitution." If organizations can be shown to promote such positions, state funding could be choked off.

Some interior ministers have also voiced their support for using this tactic on other groups. "That must also be valid for left extreme or radical foreign establishments," Bouffier said. Such a foreign establishment could include the Church of Scientology, which German politicians have labelled as a money-making cult and denied it recognition as a legitimate religious institution.

Körting also proposes hitting these organizations in the wallet in an additional way. If possible, he would like to see if the non-profit status of some far-right organizations could be revoked, thereby denying them the tax breaks such status offers.

The hurdles for such an approach remain high, as pointed out by Hesse Interior Minister Volker Bouffier (CDU). "I don't see any chance of depriving the NPD of support funds by means of a special law," he told the AP on Thursday. "The law isn't applied based on taste; the constitution prescribes a strict equality of treatment for all parties."

There may, however, be ways around the legislative approach. If such measures fail, some hope to fight the NPD and allied organizations with the time-tested tool of bureaucratic harassment. According to the Süddeutsche Zeitung, mayors and municipal councils in Rhineland-Palatinate are already making things difficult for the NPD by, for example, requiring a few more toilets in a NPD-related construction projects so as to raise building costs. The state has also put together brochures for municipalities on how to deal with NPD members who come to municipal council meetings. According to the state's Interior Minister Peter Bruch, requests for the brochure "come from all over the country."


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