Germany’s highest court on Tuesday began hearing requested to ban far-right and anti-immigrant National Democratic Party (NPD), which openly rails against refugees, more than a decade after the court’s first attempt failed.
The case before the Federal Constitutional Court has argued that the NPD, neo-Nazi fringe party, is a threat to the liberal democratic order in the country.
Constitutional court chief justice Andreas Vosskuhle began hearing saying that the hurdles are high to ban any political party. The last time that Germany banned a political party was 60 years ago.
A party ban "is a sharp and double-edged sword that must be used with great caution," Vosskuhle told the courtroom adding that "It limits freedom in order to preserve freedom."
The bid to ban the party, including its women’s and youth wings, to seize its funds and prohibit successor organisations, will require a majority of six out of the panel's eight judges, who were set to initially sit for three days and later issue their verdict.
The case has come at a time when a record influx of refugees has been polarising German society, as the number of racist hate crimes has increased.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government backs the case although it has not formally joined the high-stakes legal gamble launched by the upper house of parliament that represents Germany’s 16 states.
Merkel described the NPD as "an anti-democratic, xenophobic, anti-Semitic, anti-constitutional party" through her spokesman Steffen Seibert.
The states must persuade judges that the NPD, a party with only about 5,200 members, is unconstitutional, represents an active threat to the democratic order and holds an "aggressive and combative attitude" to make their case.
The states will also seek to prove that the NPD, which has held anti-foreigner rallies and been accused of intimidating anti-fascist local politicians, is creating a “climate of fear” in Germany and "shares essential characteristics" with the Nazis.
A previous attempt to ban the NPD failed in 2003 because the existence of undercover state informants within party ranks was seen as sullying the evidence.
Interior ministers of the states have said that domestic intelligence services have now “deactivated” all 11 undercover sources within the NPD.
However, the NPD is likely to defend claiming that informants and "agents provocateur" are still hiding within its ranks, and that the state has spied on their legal strategy.
Some have criticised the high-profile case against the NPD, arguing that it won't stop other far-right groups, including PEGIDA movement, as supporters argue a prohibition would at least send a strong signal against xenophobes.
German Justice Minister Heiko Maas said that "even if the NPD is banned, that unfortunately doesn't mean there is no more right-wing extremism in Germany".
The NPD founded in 1964 as a successor to the neo-fascist German Reich Party, scored just 1.3 percent in 2013 federal elections and has never crossed the five percent threshold for entry into the national parliament.