German court to rule if lawmakers can ban far-right party

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Germany's supreme court is scheduled to announce its verdict Tuesday on lawmakers' bid to outlaw a far-right party accused of promoting a racist and anti-Semitic agenda. It would be the first ban of its kind since 1956.

The German parliament's upper house, which represents the country's 16 state governments, applied for the ban at the end of 2013. It's the second attempt to ban the National Democratic Party, better known by its German acronym NPD.

Officials maintain the party violates the German Constitution and are keen to cut off NPD's state funding, to which all political parties are entitled.

The Federal Constitutional Court, which held three days of hearings last March, has not indicated which way its verdict will go, and experts differ on whether the NPD poses enough of a threat to justify a ban. Only two parties have been outlawed in West Germany and reunited Germany — the neo-Nazi Socialist Reich Party in 1952 and the German Communist Party in 1956.

The constitution states: "Parties that, by reason of their aims or the behavior of their adherents, seek to undermine or abolish the free democratic basic order or to endanger the existence of the Federal Republic of Germany shall be unconstitutional."

There are questions, however, about how politically relevant the NPD remains.

It has a single seat in the European Parliament, but isn't represented in the German Bundestag after winning just 1.3 percent of the vote in the last national election in 2013. Parties need to meet a 5 percent threshold to hold seats in the federal parliament.

The NPD's fortunes have declined further since then. For a decade, it held seats in two eastern German state legislatures, but it lost the last of those seats in September.

The rise of the nationalist Alternative for Germany party, which has assailed Chancellor Angela Merkel for allowing in large numbers of migrants and appeals to a much broader range of protest voters, has helped erode its support.

Regardless of the verdict handed down Tuesday, "the Federal Constitutional Court will not take the confrontation with right-wing extremism off our hands," Justice Minister Heiko Maas told the daily Die Welt. "Even if the NPD were banned, that unfortunately does not mean there are no right-wing extremists in Germany."

The case at the constitutional court in Karlsruhe has gone farther than the first attempt to ban the NPD.

In 2003, the court rejected that bid because paid government informants within the party were partially responsible for evidence against it. Officials say there's no evidence from informants this time.