Germany can cut off state funding to the far-right Homeland party (Die Heimat) even though it is not banned, the country’s Constitutional Court has said, in a landmark ruling that has fueled debate about whether the popular hardliner Alternative for Germany (AfD) party may also be penalised.
The court in Karlsruhe on Tuesday justified its decision by saying Die Heimat, formerly known as the National Democratic Party (NPD), aimed to undermine or eliminate the country’s democratic system.
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In 2017, the court said the NPD resembled Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party but decided not to ban it because it received too little support to threaten democracy.
Parliament responded by passing a law that allows hardline parties to be stripped of state funding and tax benefits. Tuesday’s decision is the first time that law has been applied.
“[Die Heimat] aims to replace the existing constitutional system with an authoritarian state based on an ethnic ‘people’s community’,” said the court, adding that its ideas disrespected the human dignity of minorities and migrants.
The ruling is being closely watched as mainstream politicians struggle to respond to a surge in support for the AfD, second in most polls with support of about 22 percent.
Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said it sent a signal that anti-democratic forces would not be funded by the state.
“The decision comes at a time when right-wing extremism is the greatest extremist threat to our democracy,” she said in a statement.
“We are taking decisive action against all those who are preparing the ground for right-wing extremist violence.”
A report this month by investigative news website Correctiv that some party members discussed policies such as mass deportations of people of foreign origin at a meeting of right-wing activists prompted hundreds of thousands of people to take to the streets across Germany in protest.
The AfD has said the “remigration” plans are not party policy, but intelligence agencies had already classified the party as right-wing hardliner in three eastern states.
Some mainstream politicians have floated a possible ban on the AfD, withholding funding for it or removing the rights of some individuals in the party to prevent them from being elected.
The exclusion of Die Heimat from state party funding for six years means the party would no longer benefit from tax concessions. It is widely reported to have saved about 200,000 euros ($217,000) in tax since 2020 due to tax-free inheritances.
Other parties are entitled to public money according to how many votes they win in European, federal or state elections but Die Heimat has failed to cross the threshold to qualify.