In a move that has sparked intense public debate in Germany and across Europe, the German Government – led by the centre-left Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) – has openly declared publicly that it is currently debating the possibility of banning the right-wing Alternative for Germany party (AfD). The AfD over the past decade has become increasingly popular among the German electorate, and the party currently enjoys a popularity rating of 21%, according to the most recent opinion polls. The current favourite is the centre-right Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU), which stands at 26%. In third place is the ruling SPD, which currently stands at 19.5%.
According to German intelligence officers, the primary factor in the German Government’s considerations to ban the AfD is the concern that the AfD is becoming “increasingly extreme” in nature. No further details nor elaboration were given as to exactly how the AfD are becoming “increasingly extreme”. The lack of any further details on the matter has not stopped various left-wing and liberal German political figures from attacking the AfD – both directly and indirectly – in various public speeches and written statements. According to German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, “we [Germany] all have it in our hands to put those who despise our democracy in their place.” German intelligence chief Thomas Haldenwang – an especially visceral opponent of the AfD – addressed the AfD directly with his statement that the party “spread[s] hate against all types of minorities here in Germany.” The popular German political magazine Der Spiegel did not hold back with its own stance on the matter, releasing a headline bearing the words Ban the Enemies of the Constitution! The magazine went even further with its anti-AfD rhetoric by claiming that the party has become “more and more radicalised. It’s time to defend democracy with better weapons.”
Because nothing says “defend democracy” better than banning a rival political party after claiming that it is becoming “increasingly extreme” only once it starts beating your own ruling party in the public opinion polls…
Although representing another party opposed to the influence of the AfD, CDU leader Friedrich Merz has publicly stated that “banning parties has never actually solved political problems.”
According to the German Institute for Human Rights NGO, the AfD have allegedly met the criteria under which a political organisation can be banned for being a threat to the German Constitution. This time, however, the NGO at least attempted to outline exactly why it believes that the AfD poses a threat to Germany by claiming that the party is trying to “implement its racist and right-wing extremist goals” and “shifting the limits of what can be said so that people can get used to their ethno-nationalist positions…” The accuracy of these accusations continues to be questioned, as the AfD has been criticised for its policies by left-wingers, liberals and even other German right-wing nationalists alike – the former two accusing the AfD of being extreme, the latter accusing the AfD of not being nationalistic enough.
In the past, Germany had witnessed throughout its modern history instances of party bans by regimes both left-wing and right-wing in nature (some examples are more obvious than others, especially between 1933 – 1945). Since 1945, however, in order to avoid any repeats of previous regimes, German law actually makes it very difficult to ban political parties. In 2003 and 2017, attempts to ban the nationalist National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) – now known as Die Heimat – failed following court rulings.
In terms of German public opinion surrounding a potential banning of the AfD, the most recent opinion polls gave a very split result, with 47% supporting a ban on the AfD, 47% against a ban and 6% unsure. The results also show a very evident split in opinion down regional lines, with most supporters of a ban being from the western regions of Germany and most opponents of a ban being from the eastern regions. Ideologically – and most obviously – most supporters of a ban belong to left-wing and liberal parties, whereas most opponents of a ban belong to right-wing parties.
With over one-fifth of Germany supporting the AfD, realistically, a ban on the party is highly unlikely to occur. If the AfD, with its current popularity ratings, ends up being banned, not only will this create – ironically – a constitutional crisis in Germany, but it will also result in AfD supporters and voters turning to other right-wing nationalist parties, thereby allowing for the rapid growth in membership, influence and power of otherwise smaller German nationalist parties, such as Die Heimat. On the one hand, such a scenario will arguably pose an even bigger threat to the ruling left-wing establishment in Germany, but, on the other hand, a potential fracturing of the right-wing support base in Germany from an AfD ban could alternatively lead to right-wing voters scattering themselves to various other right-wing parties, thereby dramatically decreasing the likelihood of a future right-wing government in Germany and an extension to the longevity of the influence of left-wing and liberal parties in Germany. For now, we can rest easy with the knowledge that the AfD and the growing influence of the right in Germany are indeed here to stay, for now.
ETN Board Member (Serbia)
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