On Tuesday, the German Constitutional Court rejected an attempt to ban the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD). The NPD is a neo-Nazi political party that the German intelligence agency has described as “racist, anti-Semitic, and revisionist.” The Constitutional Court found that although the NPD was hostile to democracy, the party lacked the ability to undermine or abolish democracy in Germany.
Under the Basic Law Sec. 21(2), parties that “seek to undermine or abolish the free democratic basic order or to endanger the existence” of Germany can be declared unconstitutional. The Federal Constitutional Court has the authority to make this determination. To meet the criteria, the party must “actively and systematically advocate its [unconstitutional] aims,” and “there must be specific and weighty indications that at least make it appear possible that the party’s activities will be successful.”
Germany is preparing for what will likely be a heated election season in 2017. Chancellor Merkel will begin her fourth bid for Chancellor. Far-right parties and movements have shifted political dialogue as more mainstream politicians borrow their anti-immigrant and xenophobic rhetoric and policies. Merkel’s refugee policies have been the source of criticism by far-right groups, which have stoked fears among the general population and reinforced anti-immigrant and xenophobic attitudes. The Alternative for Germany (AfD) has gained steam by focusing on their anti-immigrant policies.
The most effective way to counter intolerance and extremism is to address its root causes. This is done not by banning parties but by offering an effective counter-message rooted in respect for human rights and liberal democracy. Leaders in Germany should reaffirm their commitment to refugees but also convey that they understand the anxieties of Germans and present a plan for integrating newcomers.
What leaders say and do matters. The 2016 election season in the United States featured xenophobic and hateful language and policy proposals directed at Muslims, Jews, refugees, immigrants, people of color, LGBT people, and other marginalized groups. Against this backdrop, hate crimes rose roughly six percent in 2015, and spikes were recorded after the election. Just as President-elect Trump’s rhetoric has emboldened hate and extremist groups in the United States, his win emboldened the far right in Europe.
The United States too should re-commit itself to the values of an inclusive, rights-respecting democracy, and unequivocally state that we will not tolerate xenophobia and racism. By promoting this counter-narrative, it will be more effective at fighting hate and extremist groups at home and abroad.