The partially rightist-extremist party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) in Germany is facing an unprecedented combination of scandals with crucial regional elections in Eastern Germany just around the corner. Controversies include allegations of a Chinese spy working for the lead candidate for the EU elections, of Russian money being laundered through a media outlet to German parliamentarians, a party in parts classified as rightist-extremist and a regional candidate being convicted over the use of a Nazi slogan. Yet, most recent polls suggest strong victories for the AfD. At the center of heated debates stands the question: can the German democratic parties counter the AfD and its rightist-extremist agenda solely with stronger counter policy proposals or shall it be banned as a whole or in parts pursuant to the possibilities given by the German constitution?

The German Constitution of 1949 was adopted as a strong instrument to prevent the erosion of a pluralistic and free democratic political order, making Germany a democratic stronghold in post-autocratic Europe. 75 years later, the German political system is facing immense political challenges. When it was formed in 2013, the AfD was at first a solely euro-sceptic party. There has been, however, a dramatic shift regarding its rhetoric and political agenda since 2015. Deeply concerning is the idea across party ranks that German nationals with a migrant background shall be treated as legally inferior. Questioning the legal equality of all citizens through an ‘ethnic-cultural concept of people’ violates the core value of the German constitution: human dignity. It even questions the full membership of migrants in German society regardless of their citizenship. Additionally, it calls into question the right to equal practice of religion, solely in regard to the Muslim population in Germany. When rightist-extremist representatives came together in November 2023 to plan nothing less than the expulsion of millions of people from Germany, key figures from the AfD were present. This revealed yet again the close ties between the AfD, rightist-extremist, and even neo-fascist circles.

The nature of these recent developments requires an analysis through a constitutional lens. Article 21 paragraph 2 of the German Constitution allows political parties to be classified as unconstitutional. However, only the German Federal Constitutional Court may decide on such a ban. In a prior judgment in 2017 regarding the far-right neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NPD), the court emphasized the party ban as being a matter of last resort. This judgement gave special regard to the case law of the European Court of Human Rights, which stresses the particular relevance of free formation of political opinions. According to the court, the political party must therefore, firstly, demonstrate a combative and assertive stance against the free democratic system it seeks to dismantle. Secondly, concrete evidence has to suggest that the party’s goals of undermining the constitution are feasible. Contrary to the NPD, the AfD intentionally does not include obvious extremist and unconstitutional policies in its manifestos. These are, however, all the more evident in public statements by its representatives.

Current polls predicting 16 % of votes in federal elections in 2025 and particularly the growing support among the younger generations (from 9 % in 2022 to 22 % in 2024) suggest the AfD is ready to enact its political agenda. This agenda put forward by the AfD for the upcoming elections, and even more so the rhetoric of its most high-ranking officials, are in some regards inherently unconstitutional. Simultaneously, the most radical branches – such as the so-called ‘Flügel’ – of the AfD are gaining increasing control over the party, as demonstrated at the latest party convention and foreshadowing the even stronger push to the far-right. These two elements together embody a serious threat for the German political and social system, possibly meeting the constitutional threshold of inherently aiming to abolish the free democratic basic order in Germany.

The German constitution provides the German democratic system with a clear mandate to combat precisely such threats. The initiation of a ban will not eradicate this modern embodiment of right-wing extremism, nor will it solve the core issues at hand. However, a well-founded and transparent ban procedure can be used as a tool to inform, shake up and remind this current voter pool of the AfD’s intrinsic unconstitutional nature. It could thereby have a positive effect overall, since its voters are not exclusively right-extremists. Instead, a growing and significant number of its supporters aim to send a message to the political establishment that they wish to be heard and for their concerns to be addressed effectively. Debates on the mitigation of inflation, poverty and climate change have further intensified the political divisions in Germany.

It is beyond any doubt: the established political parties must wake up and take on the responsibility to solve this carefully, since a party ban could also turn out to be detrimental. It could draw an even greater wedge through German society and trigger additional solidarity with the AfD, as the existing concerns will remain. Already now, people from all parts of society no longer feel represented by the other political parties, while the AfD continues to offer them oversimplified answers and insists on being anti-establishment. It negates the need for reforms concerning climate change and migration, aiming to give voters the impression that our current lifestyle can remain unchanged despite increasing natural disasters and a severe lack of workforce in the EU. Fear, frustration and anger among the German population are being exploited and exacerbated by the AfD. These emotions help to disregard the aforementioned scandals – at least so far. The current government coalition therefore has to drastically increase its efforts to politically confront the AfD by highlighting its own significant achievements and illustrating the economic consequences of AfD politics for Germany as an EU member state and international business hub.

In addition, there remains the risk that a party ban would not hold in front of the German Federal Constitutional Court. This would further intensify the radicalization of the party as an anti-system party and would unite its followers with the aim of radically changing the German political system. Some politically challenging tasks may sometimes require strong legal solutions or mechanisms, which are partially provided by the German Constitution. However, this very dynamic may require political and societal solutions, which may also include politicians maintaining closer and more regular contact with their voters as well as countering the severe spread of false information on social media. Political polarization and radicalization are not a new challenge to democratic societies. Therefore, all political parties shall remain in political dialogue even with the fiercest enemies of our pluralistic democratic system. Any populist or extremist party, whether right or left, can be countered with strong effective and visible solutions.

What remains to be said: the established political parties in Germany, their political supporters, but also the population as a whole are facing a rather unprecedented political and societal challenge. The reemergence of a partially rightist-extremist and inherently racist political party has to be countered on various levels. This will entail considerable efforts in the field of education, political discourse but even more so through political decision-making. The fears and concerns of our time have to be addressed immediately. A ban of a political party should be a matter of last resort and would appear to be a sign of desperation.

Written by Jan Contius, Edited by Jolan Maria Boganyi
Photo credit: Yannic Kress, Unsplash