Posted on March 14, 2024

Germany Looks to Stop the Far Right From Assuming Power

Erika Solomon, New York Times, March 13, 2024

For Germany — a country that knows something about how extremists can hijack a government — the surging popularity of the far right has forced an awkward question.

How far should a democracy go in restricting a party that many believe is bent on undermining it?

It is a quandary that politicians and legal experts are grappling with across the country as support surges for Alternative for Germany, a far-right party whose backing now outstrips each of the three parties in the governing coalition.

Not only is the AfD the most popular party in three states holding elections this year, it is polling nationwide as high as 20 percent. German politicians have become increasingly alarmed that someday the party could wield influence in the federal government. Its popularity has grown despite the fact that the domestic intelligence services announced they are investigating the party as a suspected threat to democracy.


Today, German lawmakers are rewriting bylaws and pushing for constitutional amendments to ensure courts and state parliaments can provide checks against a future, more powerful AfD. Some have even launched a campaign to ban the AfD altogether.


Germany’s domestic intelligence says 10,000 of the party’s 28,500 members are extremists. Several state branches of the AfD have already been classified as extremist, as has its youth wing.


Most recently, several AfD members, including an aide to the party’s co-leader, attended a meeting where an extreme-right activist reportedly discussed his vision for “remigration,” or mass deportations of immigrants, potentially including naturalized citizens.

The aide was later dismissed and AfD leaders have denied wanting to deport German citizens. But news of the meeting, reported by the German investigative outlet Correctiv in January, set off weeks of protests against the AfD across the country.


In the central German state of Hesse, the AfD became the largest opposition party in the state parliament after elections last year. That gave the party the right to hold positions on key committees — among them the body that oversees domestic intelligence services.

In other words, the members of a party that is currently the subject of surveillance operations would have access to information on who and what was being watched.

Hesse’s rival mainstream parties came together to pass a “democracy package,” rewriting several parliamentary rules, including one that effectively blocked the AfD from the intelligence committee. Now members are selected solely by the ruling coalition, a move that risks weakening opposition oversight of the majority.


Efforts to head off the rise of the AfD are now intensifying at the national level, but those efforts may have the unintended effect of weakening democratic functions in Germany.

Some measures under discussion would give law enforcement and domestic intelligence agencies more latitude, never an easy step in a country that experienced both Fascism and Communism in the last century.

The interior ministry has proposed a 13-point plan that would, among other things, enable security forces to investigate the finances of anyone viewed as having “threat potential,” as opposed to only those people being investigated for incitement or violence.

Another would allow civil servants to be dismissed based on suspected ties to extremists, placing the burden of proof on employees rather than the state.

“A culture of suspicion is being created,” said Gottfried Curio, an AfD member of Parliament. “We consider this to be the real threat to democracy.”

Some national legislators are especially concerned with protecting the independence of the Supreme Court. They want to enshrine the process for appointing judges in the Constitution and have it require a two-thirds majority in both houses of Parliament. Until now, the appointment of judges has been governed by federal law and requires a simple majority.

But if the AfD ever controlled more than a third of parliament, such a change would actually allow it to block any judicial appointment it wanted.