German democracy is having a tough time dealing with the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) which is steadily gaining political ground. Now there are calls to hit the party where it hurts -- in its pocket.
The NPD has been deemed "racist, anti-Semitic and revisionist" by the country's domestic intelligence agency, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution. There have been calls to ban the party, but an attempt to have the country's Constitutional Court outlaw it failed in 2003 and the NPD continues to get state funding, consistent with Germany's campaign finance laws.
The far-right party is no longer confined to the margins of German politics. It has increased its membership to 7,000 and has a presence in the regional parliaments in two eastern states, Saxony and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.
This week a leading politician suggested a way to cut off the party's funding in the hope that this would effectively stop it from operating effectively. Uwe Schünemann, the interior minister in the western state of Lower Saxony, presented his ideas to his fellow ministers at a two-day summit in Potsdam, near Berlin. He proposed altering part of the constitution to prevent any party that opposes the democratic system from receiving state funding. The NPD receives 40 percent of its funding from the German state, which amounted to €1.45 million ($1.8 million) last year.
The suggestion did not receive the enthusiastic welcome Schüneman had been hoping for. The interior ministers have only agreed to carefully examine the proposal and discuss it at a future summit, Schünemann told Associated Press on Friday. The minister had hoped that his colleagues would accept his suggestion and push to change the constitution ahead of next year's parliamentary elections.
On Friday German papers also voice skepticism about cutting off the party's funding. Some voice concerns about using these means to smother a party in a democracy and argue that the same instrument could then be used on other parties, particularly the Left Party.
The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"Despite all the difficulties, the issue is simple: If the NPD is a criminal, violent, unconstitutional organization, then is should be banned. If it is not -- or not to a sufficient degree -- then it cannot be banned and democracy has to endure the NPD because sometimes a democracy also has to put up with unbearable stupidity. There is just a ban or not a ban -- there is no third way. And it is not possible to withhold state funding on political grounds from a party that is not banned."
"If the constitutional state takes measures against a party that is hostile to the constitutional state, it has to stick to constitutional principles to do so and it must be strict in applying them rather than making allowances for a good cause. It is understandable and right that democracy does not want to feed the serpent at its breast. However, the constitution has the forms to dispose of it. Either one has the courage to choose these methods by banning the party, or one does not."
The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:
"It is annoying and absurd that a party which is opposed to constitutional democracy in Germany, is for the most part financed by this very democracy. This means that state funding is flowing to people who beat up foreigners, build bombs, set fire to asylum seeker centers and spread far-right music that incites hate. It is hard to swallow."
"However it does not justify taking action against the party with a shoddy version of a party ban. At the moment the main issue is the NPD. However, its less harmful sister parties the DVU and the Republikaner are already being discussed. The question is: who would be next? The Left Party? After all, it also contains factions that would like to see a different kind of state."
The left-leaning Berliner Zeitung writes:
"The NPD is racist, anti-Semitic and anti-constitutional. In short, it is an impertinence. The NPD is a real danger, however, for all those who are considered outsiders in its ideology of a nationalist state and its one superior race. These outsiders fall victim to thugs who take up the call of the party slogans and implement them with violence on the streets."
"Schünemann is right when he says that a democracy cannot go on financing those who are openly in favor of getting rid of it. He envisages a change to the constitution that would make it possible to exclude the NPD from party financing without having to ban it first. A de facto ban, therefore, that would not need a decision by the constitutional court."
"That sounds like a dodge, and it is one. The change to the constitution that this dodge would require, is supposed to apply to the NPD. However, no one can rule out the possibility that it could be applied to other parties in another case -- say the Left Party, which is already being observed by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution."
-- Siobhán Dowling, 12:45 p.m. CET