After a subjective decade, the trial that could lead to a ban of the right-wing extremist NPD, Germany’s oldest surviving Extreme Right party, has finally begun this week. That alone is news: Last time around, a blocking minority of the judges was so concerned about the unknown informers within the party’s leadership that the proceedings came to an end during the pre-trial phase. But to dissolve the party, six of the eight judges will have to vote in favour of a ban.
So what have we learned from three days of hearings? Not too much, actually. The court’s president said that this time, they were not fussed about any informers, but that was clear from the day that a date for the hearing was announced.
On the second day, the judges posed some very awkward questions to the counsel for the prosecution. After all, the NPD is nearly bankrupt, has only several thousand members, and has lost most of its parliamentary representation a while ago. There were some points in its 50+ year history when it has been weaker, but not too many, so why ban it now? So everyone was mentally preparing for yet another embarrassing failure to get rid of the NPD.
But then, on the final day of the hearings, the mood seemed to change: Experts and witnesses from the north-eastern state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, the party’s remaining stronghold of sorts, spoke of the atmosphere of fear and threats that has engulfed many villages and smaller towns in this region. According to their testimony, the NPD forms the organisational backbone of a large-scale right-wing extremist network for which they provide funds and political cover. Although their membership and electoral support are dwindling, they could pose a danger to democracy, at least at the regional level. The judges seemed quite impressed.
So what will happen next? We don’t know. The judges will now ponder the evidence for an indefinite number of months before they come up with a verdict. If they decide that the party is indeed unconstitutional, this would be the first such ban since 1956, and the NPD might challenge the decision in the European Court of Human Rights, creating unprecedented legal complications. And if the court throws out the case again, it does not take a seer to predict that there will be no new attempt to ban a party in a couple of decades. Either way, their verdict will be a landmark in the legal-constitutional history of the Federal Republic.