Germany’s highest court will hear a request to ban neo-Nazi fringe party National Democratic Party (NPD) on Tuesday, after a first attempt failed more than a decade ago.
The case before the Federal Constitutional Court argues that the far-right and anti-immigrant NPD jeopardises the democratic order of the country.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government supports the case, although it has not officially taken part in the case launched by the upper house of parliament that represents Germany’s 16 states.
Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, has labelled the NPD as an "anti-democratic, xenophobic, anti-Semitic and anti-constitutional party."
Critics argue that banning a party with only about 5,200 members would give them a national stage and could turn their members into martyrs, giving them extra motivation for their cause.
National Democratic Party (NPD) was established in 1964 as a successor to the neo-fascist German Reich Party and has never crossed the five percent election threshold to gain entry into the national parliament. The party could only score 1.3 percent in the 2013 national elections.
However, it is represented in the state assembly of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania in the former communist East and in many town councils in the region.
It has one seat in the European Parliament, represented by former party chief Udo Voigt who once called Adolf Hitler as “a great statesman” in a newspaper interview.
The case has been put forth during a time when the inflow of refugees have hit a record high and polarised German society as the number of racist hate crimes has increased.
NPD activists hoped to take advantage of the rising xenophobia but failed to make gains in the elections.
A more moderate right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) has meanwhile entered five state parliaments and nationally gained around 10 percent of votes.
A letter was sent last week by NPD chief Franz Frank to police and army troops, reminding them that the previous East German security forces stood up against the state and stood by the people. The letter has been seen by some as a call for usurpation.
Five state premiers are expected in the courtroom, along with interior ministers and the chiefs of federal and state security forces and police forces.
Only two parties have been banned since World War II, an heir of the Nazi party, the SPR in 1952 and the German Communist Party in 1956. The legal bar to outlaw any political party in Germany is high.
In order to be successful in their case, the states must convince judges that the NPD is unconstitutional, holds an “aggressive and combative attitude” and poses an active threat to the democratic order.
They will also seek to prove that the NPD “shares essential characteristics” with the Nazis and they seek to create a “climate of fear” in Germany.
They are likely to point out the fact that a former NPD senior member, Ralf Wohlleben, is on trial for supporting the far-right militant group National Socialist Underground (NSU) which murdered 10 people, with people from a Turkish descent being the main targets of NSU's hate murders, between 2001 and 2006.
Beate Zschape, a member of the NSU, was accused in 2013 of nine racially motivated murders which includes 8 Turkish and one Greek person. It is seen as the country's highest-profile trial since the World War II and still continues today.
The presence of undercover state informants within party ranks muddied the evidence in 2003, prevented a previous attempt to ban the NPD.
All undercover sources within the NPD have now “deactivated” according to the police and the domestic intelligence.
The party’s lawyer Peter Richter has suggested to German media that the party is likely to ground its defence on claims that informants and “agents provocateur” are still hiding within its ranks, and that the state has spied on their legal strategy.
First hearings in the court have been scheduled for the first 3 days of March in the southwestern city of Karlsruhe.
Timo Reinfrank, member of the anti-racist Amadu Antonio Foundation, and many more have criticised the case.
"Right now, there are so many other things to do rather than focusing on a ban of the NPD, which is only part of the problem," he said. "The urgent priority is to prevent right-wing attacks against refugee shelters."
Justice Minister Heiko Maas also warned that "even if the NPD is banned, that unfortunately doesn't mean there is no more right-wing extremism in Germany".