German parliament votes to cut funding to extremist parties

A protester holds a flag reading 'Against Nazis' at an anti-fascist rally. Berlin, 4 March. [Felipe Trueba/EPA]

Germany’s parliament has changed the constitution so that extremist parties can no longer claim government funds. Critics call that undemocratic, but lawmakers say Germany’s political system is entitled to defend itself.

A majority of 502 of 579 delegates in the German Bundestag voted yesterday (22 June) in favor of amending the country’s constitution to deprive anti-democratic political parties of federal money. One of the first groups likely to be affected by the new rules is the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD), which received €1.1 million last year.

The vote on such a cutoff comes three months before a federal election and was welcomed by Jewish groups.

Under the previous rules, any party garnering 1% in a local election or 0.5% in a national or EU election automatically qualified for state funding up to the amount of money raised by the party itself. The NPD polled 1.5% and 1% respectively in the 2013 German national election and the 2014 EU election.

The Constitutional Court said in January the NPD’s aims, viewed by Germany’s intelligence agency as racist, anti-Semitic and revisionist, violated the constitution.

“The NPD intends to replace the existing constitutional system with an authoritarian national state that adheres to the idea of an ethnically defined ‘people’s community’,” the court said.

But it said there was insufficient evidence that it could succeed, and that meant the party could not be banned.

It said a clause would have to be added to the constitution if parties that breached the constitution were to be prevented from receiving taxpayers’ money. Existing rules give any parties with elected representatives the right to funds.

The NPD has never won a seat in the federal parliament and has lost all its seats in regional assemblies. But it has representatives on local councils, and so receives about €1 million a year from the German state. In 2014, it also won a seat in the European Parliament.

German Justice Minister Heiko Maas was pleased with the constitutional amendment.

“The state is under no obligation to finance enemies of democracy,” Maas said in a statement just ahead of the vote. “Devoting tax money to the NPD is a direct state investment in radical right-wing incitement.”

Reacting to the Thursday vote in parliament, the NPD said on its website: “The Bundestag takes an axe to the principle of democratic freedom.”

Several senior NPD figures have been convicted of Holocaust denial or incitement.

“It is high time that we turn off the financial tap to unconstitutional parties like the NPD,” said Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany.

“It is intolerable that parties can use taxpayers’ money to spread their anti-democratic, inhuman or, in the case of the NPD, propaganda linked to National Socialism,” he added.

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