It's been said that every good European multiparty democracy has to have at least one Racist Bastard Party. Germany's best-known RBP is the Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands (NPD - the National Democratic Party). The NPD has been around since the 1960s, founded by Adolf von Thadden. And since the 1960s, it hasn't managed to get a single seat in any legislative body.

These days, the NPD is mostly the party of unemployed young East Germans who have little else to do than drink large amounts of cheap beer and beat up immigrants. Its current strategy, the Three Pillar Concept (Drei-Säulen-Konzept) is "Battle for the Streets, Battle for the Minds, Battle for the Parliaments." Out of those three battles, the NPD dedicates the most time to the first, establishing so-called "national befreite Zonen" (national liberated zones), where "nationalists can feel like equally valued members of the community" and everyone else can feel like an Olympic sprinter.

Despite the NPD's political flaccidity, and perhaps due to their own desire to appear to be doing something, the governing coalition in Germany, made up of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Greens, decided to make it a priority to get the NPD judicially declared unconstitutional. This is possible under Art. 21 of the German Basic Law (Grundgesetz - GG), which makes parties unconstitutional if their "goals or the behaviour of their members is directed towards endangering or eliminating the free democratic fundamental order." If a party is declared unconstitutional by the Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht - BVerfG), it is disbanded, its assets seized, and it is illegal to create a substitute party.

It would seem a rather simple matter to show that the NPD is against the "free democratic fundamental order." Its rhetoric is violent. Its members are more or less open skinheads and Neonazis. Their "political" activities generally involve them getting drunk and someone else getting hurt. Their "-isms" are racism, nativism, anti-Semitism, and alcoholism. This ought to have been a slam dunk.

But it wasn't. Since there had long been suspicion that the drunken skinheads of the NPD didn't think much of democracy, the Party had been under investigation for decades. The Constitutional Protection Agencies (Verfassungsschutz) of all 16 states and the federal government had been on the NPD's case for years. Apart from monitoring publications and public meetings, and keeping tabs on the number of official and unofficial members, these agencies recruited and planted confidential informants in the NPD. Many of these agents ended up in leadership positions, including the Federal Executive Committee of the NPD.

In short, the NPD was saturated with informants. However, the Constitutional Protection Agencies had no idea. Although this party was operating in every state, and every state, in addition to the federal government, had informants in the party, no one had thought to coordinate the efforts. Thus, not only was the NPD brimming with spies, but the spies were spying on each other. No one had any idea who had what agents in the party.

This created a problem for the government's attempt to dissolve the NPD. If the NPD was being controlled by a swarm of agents provocateurs, then it would be hard to show that the Party itself was agitating against the "free democratic order." In fact, if the state were in control of the NPD to a sufficient degree, it would not legally be considered a political party in the first place, which would make it impossible to ban it under Art. 21.

Not surprisingly, the NPD's lawyers made governmental spying and infiltration the main issue in the proceedings before the Federal Constitutional Court. The Court agreed, noting in an order that:
The question of whether a party's characteristic image of its goals and the behaviour of its members are the expression of an open societal process, or whether that image has developed from circumstances that cannot be imputed to the party, may be of signifiance for the result in proceedings to ban a political party under Art. 21 II GG. Therefore, the fact that an agency of the state has collaborated with a person inside the party may be significant under Art. 21 II if the activities of that person had a significant influence on the goals of the party or the behaviour of its members.

In order to have a clear factual record upon which to base its decision on the petitions to ban the party, the Federal Constitutional Court considers it necessary for petitioners [the government] to reveal the collaboration of state agencies (intelligence services, constitutional protection agencies, and police agencies) and the concrete circumstances of such collaboration inside respondent [NPD] with persons whose statements or behaviour are set forth in the petitions as facts in support of the petitions. Of interest is also whether statements of persons who, at the time of the respective statement, were not yet or no longer in the service of state agencies, are included in the petitions. In this connection, information shall also be provided as to the legal basis for and monitoring of this collaboration at the state and federal level. The Court further considers it necessary to know, from 1996 on, which persons, if any, from the current or previous Executive Committee of respondent and from the previous or current Executive Committees of respondent's state organisations have cooperated with state agencies or continue to cooperate. Finally, the Court considers it necessary for petitioners to state whether, and in what way, other persons of significance for the image of the respondent as a whole have worked with state agencies or continue to work with state agencies, and how, if in any way, state agencies have influenced the image of respondent as a whole.
Based on the answer to the questions the Court raised, it never actually reached the issue of whether the NPD was unconstitutional. Vice President Hassemer, and Judges Broß and Osterloh, writing for the Court, held that the fact that the state and federal governments had placed informants in the NPD, some of which continued to operate even after the petition to ban the party was filed, constituted an "incurable bar to the proceedings" (nicht behebbares Verfahrenshindernis), i.e. that the government's surveillance of the NPD made it impossible for proceedings to be instituted against the party consistently with the rule of law. As Vice President Hassemer and Judges Broß and Osterloh saw it:
Zu beantworten ist, wieweit es mit rechtsstaatlichen Anforderungen an ein Verfahren gemäß Art. 21 Abs. 2 GG zu vereinbaren ist, wenn unmittelbar im Zusammenhang mit der Stellung verfahrenseinleitender Anträge nachrichtendienstliche Kontakte zwischen staatlichen Behörden des Bundes oder der Länder mit Vorstandsmitgliedern der Partei, um deren Verfassungswidrigkeit es geht, auf Bundes- und Landesebene unterhalten und gesucht werden. In diesem Zusammenhang ist auch von Bedeutung, wieweit rechtsstaatliche Verfahrensanforderungen es zulassen, dass die Antragsteller ihre Antragsbegründung auch auf öffentliche Äußerungen von Parteimitgliedern stützen, die nachrichtendienstliche Kontakte mit staatlichen Behörden unterhalten oder unterhalten haben.

The question we must answer is: to what extent it is consistent with the requirements of the rule of law for proceedings pursuant to Art. 21 II GG for state and federal agencies to seek and maintain intelligence contacts at the state and federal level with members of the Executive Committtees of the party sought to be declared unconstitutional directly in connection with the filing of the petition to open proceedings to ban the party. In this context, the extent to which the procedural requirements of the rule of law allow the petitioners to base their petition on public statements of party members who have or have had intelligence contacts with state agencies is also of significance.
This was a question of first impression, and was not governed by any express provisions either in the Basic Law or in the Federal Constitutional Court Act (Bundesverfassungsgerichtsgesetz - BVerfGG). However, in the context of criminal procedure, the Court had previously held that proceedings could be incurably barred "in exceptional circumstances, based directly on constitutional grounds." For example, proceedings had been held to be incurably barred when the state had impermissibly provoked the criminal offence for which the defendant was being prosecuted and in cases in which the government had unreasonably delayed criminal proceedings. The Court held this proportionality principle, based on which the interests of the state in seeing proceedings through to resolution had to be weighed against the interests of the individual applicable to all judicial proceedings brought in the interest of the state, including proceedings to have a party declared unconstitutional. "Kein staatliches Verfahren darf einseitig nur nach Maßgabe des jeweils rechtlich bestimmten Verfahrenszwecks ohne Rücksicht auf mögliche gegenläufige Verfassungsgebote und auf mögliche übermäßige rechtsstaatliche Kosten einseitiger Zielverfolgung durchgeführt werden." ("No state proceedings may be brought and maintained based solely on the legally determined purpose of the proceedings without regard to any countervailing constitutional commandments or the cost to the rule of law of allowing the states goals to be pursued in such a unilateral manner.")

Kommt es im Verfahren zu gravierenden Verstößen gegen objektives Verfassungsrecht oder gegen subjektive Rechte der Antragsgegnerin, so hat das Gericht zu prüfen, ob das staatliche Interesse an der weiteren Durchführung des Verfahrens überwiegt oder ob die Fortsetzung des Verfahrens den verfassungsrechtlichen Anforderungen an die Rechtsstaatlichkeit dieses Verfahrens und dem verfassungsrechtlich gebotenen Schutz der Rechte der Antragsgegnerin widerspräche.


If grave violations of objective constitutional law or subjective rights of the respondent arise in [proceedings to ban a party], the court must determine whether the state's interest in continuing the proceedings prevails, or whether the continuation of the proceedings would contravene the constitutional requirements for guaranteeing that the proceedings are conducted consistently with the rule of law and the constitutionally mandated protection of the respondent.
In determining whether it is necessary to declare the proceedings barred, the Court held, it is necessary to keep in mind that a bar to the proceedings was the ultima ratio - a remedy of last resort - and could only be applied to the extent that it could comport with the specific protective purposes of Art. 21 II ban proceedings. Before the Court could declare proceedings barred, it had to be satisfied that the following conditions were fulfilled:
[E]rstens, ein Verfassungsverstoß von erheblichem Gewicht, der, zweitens, einen nicht behebbaren rechtsstaatlichen Schaden für die Durchführung des Verfahrens bewirkt, so dass, drittens, die Fortsetzung des Verfahrens auch bei einer Abwägung mit den staatlichen Interessen an wirksamem Schutz gegen die von einer möglicherweise verfassungswidrig tätigen Partei ausgehenden Gefahren rechtsstaatlich nicht hinnehmbar ist.

(1) a constitutional violation of substantial weight, which (2) causes irreparable harm to the ability to conduct further proceedings in accordance with the rule of law, taking into account the state's interest in effective protection against the dangers emanating from the activities of a possibly unconstitutional party.

Moving on to paint with slightly broader strokes, the Court held that the government's infiltration of the NPD was presumptively unconstitutional:
Die Beobachtung einer politischen Partei durch V-Leute staatlicher Behörden, die als Mitglieder des Bundesvorstands oder eines Landesvorstands fungieren, unmittelbar vor und während der Durchführung eines Verfahrens vor dem Bundesverfassungsgericht zur Feststellung der Verfassungswidrigkeit der Partei ist in der Regel unvereinbar mit den Anforderungen an ein rechtsstaatliches Verfahren, die sich aus Art. 21 Abs. 1 und Abs. 2 GG i.V.m. dem Rechtsstaatsprinzip, Art. 20 Abs. 3 GG, ergeben.

The observation of a political party by means of confidential informants who act as members of the Federal or State Executive Committee, immediately before and during proceedings before the Federal Constitutional Court to declare the party unconstitutional is generally incompatible with the requirements judicial proceedings must meet in order to comport with the rule of law, as set forth in Art. 21 I GG in conjunction with the principle of the rule of law ("Rechtsstaatsprinzip") Art. 20 III GG.

Under German law, political parties are constitutional institutions in their own right. However, the Second Senat of the Federal Constitutional Court, responsible for proceedings to ban political parties, has held that they are not constitutionally protected from the disadvantages - such as difficulty in recruiting members - that might arise from surveillance by the constitutional protection authorities. On the other hand, according to the Court, the authorities may only initiate surveillance on a specific statutory basis and, only then, if the contemplated surveillance is justified under proportionality analysis, which requires that state action be proportionate to the interest it seeks to protect.

Based on this balancing test, certain surveillance activities are presumptively valid, including observing the public appearances of the party at marches, demonstrations, etc., or reading publications by or on behalf of the party. At the other end of the spectrum, when the government begins more intenstive surveillance by means of informers or infiltrators, it may not influence the internal decisionmaking of the party to such an extent that the party becomes a de facto "state organisation" ("Veranstaltung des Staates")

The Court's opinion suggests that any placement of agents at the leadership levels of a party could convert a party into an impermissible "state organisation,"
Staatliche Präsenz auf der Führungsebene einer Partei macht Einflussnahmen auf deren Willensbildung und Tätigkeit unvermeidbar. Dieser Befund ist im Fall besonderer politischer Aktivität eines V-Manns evident, jedoch auch dann unübersehbar, wenn das Führungsmitglied politische Zurückhaltung übt. Die Rolle als führendes Parteimitglied - sei es auf Landesebene als Mitglied des Landesvorstands, sei es auf Bundesebene als Mitglied des Bundesvorstands - hat notwendig zur Folge, dass jedwede politische Aktivität wie Passivität Willensbildung und außenwirksames Erscheinungsbild der Partei mit beeinflussen. Dies gilt nicht nur für eingeschleuste Mitarbeiter staatlicher Behörden, deren eigene politische Zielsetzungen denen der infiltrierten Partei ganz entgegengesetzt sein mögen. Zwangsläufigkeit staatlicher Einflussnahme auf Willensbildung und Außenwirkung einer Partei ist auch in all jenen Fällen gegeben, in denen vom Parteiprogramm überzeugte Parteimitglieder erfolgreich als Informanten gewonnen werden können. Auch diese V-Leute wirken notwendig als Medien staatlicher Einflussnahme insofern, als ihre politische Aktivität oder Passivität auf der Führungsebene der beobachteten Partei geprägt ist durch widersprüchliche Loyalitätsansprüche an die Rollen als führendes Parteimitglied einerseits und andererseits als - in der Regel entgeltlich tätiger - Informant für staatliche Behörden, dessen Aufgabe es sein kann, Material für einen möglichen Antrag auf ein Parteiverbot zu beschaffen.

State presence at the leadership levels of a party makes state influence on the party's decisionmaking and activities unavoidable. This is evident in the case of specific political activities of an informant, but also cannot be overlooked in the case that the informant is politically reserved. The role of a leading party member - whether at the state level as a member of the State Executive Committee or on the federal level as a member of the federal Executive Committee - necessarily means that any political activity or passivity will influence the decisionmaking and public image of the party. This is true not only for government agents who infiltrate the party, whose own political goals may be completely at odds with those of the infiltrated party. The inevitability of state influence on the decisionmaking and public image of a party is also present in all cases in which party members who sincerely believe in the party programme can successfully be recruited as informants. These informants, too, necessarily act as media of state influence to the extent that their political activity or passivity at the leadership level is characterised by the contradictory loyalties that arise from being a leading member of the party on the one hand and, on the other hand, a - usually paid - informant for state agencies, whose job may be to obtain material for a possible petition to ban the party.
The Court also recognised the significance of ban proceedings, which essentially constitute the death penalty for a political party. Proceedings to ban a party may be a party's "last chance to confront the evidence adduced by the petitioner to show that a ban is necessary to protect the democratic fundamental order from danger with the image of a loyal constitutional institution whose further participation in the popular and state decisionmaking process is both legitimate and necessary in the interest of a free democratic fundamental order " ("Sie erhält vor dem Bundesverfassungsgericht - gegebenenfalls letztmalig - die Chance, dem Vorbringen der Antragsteller, die ein Parteiverbot zur Gefahrenabwehr für notwendig erklären, das Bild einer loyalen verfassungsrechtlichen Institution entgegenzusetzen, deren weitere Teilnahme am Prozess der Volks- und Staatswillensbildung gerade im Interesse einer freiheitlichen demokratischen Grundordnung notwendig und legitim ist. "). Because of the vital importance of the result of ban proceedings, the fairness of the procedure and the reliability of the result are of particular importance. Moreover,
Parteienfreiheit im Sinne von Staatsfreiheit und Selbstbestimmung gewinnen in dieser Situation eine besonders herausragende Bedeutung: Mitglieder der Führungsebene, die mit einander entgegengesetzten Loyalitätsansprüchen des staatlichen Auftraggebers und der observierten Partei konfrontiert sind, schwächen die Stellung der Partei als Antragsgegnerin vor dem Bundesverfassungsgericht im Kern. Sie verfälschen unausweichlich die rechtsstaatlich notwendige freie und selbstbestimmte Selbstdarstellung der Partei im verfassungsgerichtlichen Prozess.


The freedom of political parties in the sense of freedom from state interference and self-determination has particularly compelling significance in this situation: members of the party leadership, confronted with contradictory loyalties both to their state employers and to the party under serveillance, weaken the position of the party as a respondent before the Federal Constitutional Court in its very core. They inevitably falsify the free and autonomous self-portrayal of the party, which proceedings before the Court require.
According to the Court, the government, as a petitioner in a party ban case, has several constiutional duties. It is the duty of the government to prepare the petition in a manner adequate to make the proceedings possible. In addition, the government is required to sever its contacts with informants, and remove any government infiltrators, no later than the time at which it publicly announces its intention to petition for a ban. Moreover, the government cannot seek to circumvent this duty by nomenclature. All information-seeking activity of the government must stop, even if the government chooses to call the activity "post-operation debriefing" ("Nachsorge"). More generally, the government must ensure coordinated, well-organised operations in order to avoid the possibility of interfering with the decisionmaking process of the party.

In addition, the Court declared it a violation of the rule of law for the government to base its petition in substantial part on the statements and activities of "party members who maintain or have maintained intelligence contacts with state agencies.
Dies gilt unabhängig von der grundsätzlichen Frage der Verwertbarkeit der Informationen von V-Leuten im verfassungsgerichtlichen Verbotsverfahren und auch unabhängig davon, ob "verfassungsfeindliche" Äußerungen von V-Leuten im Ergebnis der Partei zugerechnet werden können. Entscheidend ist vielmehr, ob Personen mit ihren Äußerungen als Teil des Bildes einer verfassungswidrigen Partei präsentiert werden, die nachrichtendienstliche Kontakte mit staatlichen Behörden unterhalten oder unterhalten haben, ohne dies kenntlich und so die daraus folgenden Zurechnungsprobleme offen zum Gegenstand der Verhandlung im Prozess zu machen. Auch die Aufbereitung eindeutig zurechenbarer Tatsachen und die Offenlegung möglicher entscheidungserheblicher Zurechnungsfragen gehören zu den Aufgaben, die die Antragsteller im Rahmen der ihnen eigenen Verfahrensverantwortung wahrzunehmen haben. Diese Aufgaben können nur mit Hilfe sorgfältiger Vorbereitung eines Verbotsantrags erfüllt werden. Sonst wird dem Gericht die Gewährleistung eines rechtsstaatlichen Verfahrens bei der Ermittlung verlässlichen Tatsachenmaterials unmöglich gemacht oder doch in verfassungswidriger Weise wesentlich erschwert.

This applies regardless of the basic question of the admissibility of information provided by informants in ban proceedings before the Court. Nor does it matter whether "anti-constitutional" statements of informants can be imputed to the party. Rather, the dispositive inquiry is whether persons who have or previously had intelligence contacts to state agencies and their statements are presented as a part of the image of an unconstitutional party without making this known, thus making the resulting imputability issues a subject of the proceedings. The preparation of clearly imputable facts and the revelation of possibly dispositive imputablity issues, too, are amongst the duties that the petitioners must fulfil as part of their procedural burden. These duties can only be fulfilled by careful preparation of the petition. Otherwise, the court would be unable to guarantee, or have substantial difficulty in guaranteeing, proceedings in accordance with the rule of law in the investigation of reliable factual information
Despite its statements about the importance of the autonomy and independence of political parties, the Court gave the government some wiggle-room by noting in dicta that these principles could be limited when the government is seeking to prevent an "acute danger" in extreme, exceptional cases, such as when the party is using its political activity as a cover to prepare or commit serious crimes or crimes of violence.

While the Court made the test for establishing a constitutional violation by the government relatively clear, it left the determination of the appropriate remedy murky. The determination of whether declaring a bar to the proceedings is appropriate is based on the totality of the circumstances ("umfassende Würdigung der konkreten Verfahrenssituation"), including whatever dangers might be connected with terminating the proceedings. However, in cases such as this one, the presumption is in favour of declaring a bar to the proceedings:
Soweit ein nicht behebbarer rechtsstaatlicher Mangel des Verfahrens festzustellen ist, wird dessen Fortsetzung nur in ganz außergewöhnlichen Gefahrensituationen in Betracht zu ziehen sein, wobei sich ohnehin die Voraussetzungen für eine nur im Ausnahmefall mögliche Rechtfertigung staatlicher Präsenz auf der Führungsebene im Verbotsverfahren mit den Gründen für ein überwiegendes staatliches Interesse an der Fortsetzung des Verfahrens weitgehend decken.

Für die Gesamtabwägung sind wesentliche Eigenheiten des - präventiven - verfassungsgerichtlichen Parteiverbotsverfahrens im Unterschied zum - repressiven - Strafprozess von erheblicher Bedeutung. Während es bei der Einstellung eines Strafprozesses wegen eines nicht behebbaren Verfahrenshindernisses immer um einen endgültigen Verzicht auf das staatliche Strafverfolgungsinteresse geht, gilt anderes für die Rechtsfolgen der Einstellung des verfassungsgerichtlichen Verfahrens. Hier geht es nicht um eine abschließende Entscheidung über die Zulässigkeit künftiger Verbotsanträge. Erneute Anträge bleiben vielmehr ohne weiteres möglich, und sie müssen, im Gegensatz zu den Rechtsfolgen einer gerichtlichen Sachentscheidung gemäß § 47 i.V.m. § 41 BVerfGG, insbesondere nicht "auf neue Tatsachen gestützt" sein.
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To the extent that an incurable bar is found, continuation of the proceedings may only be considered in highly unusual situations of danger, with the requirements for justying a state presence at the leadership level of a party, which is only exceptionally permitted, substantially overlapping the grounds for a compelling state interest in the continuation of the proceedings.

In weighing the totality of the circumstances, essential characteristics of the - preventive - party ban proceedings before the Federal Constitutional Court, as compared to the - repressive - nature of criminal procedure are of substantial significance. While the termination of a criminal trial due to an incurable bar always constitutes an irrevocable waiver of the state's interest in prosecuting crimes, this is not the case for termination of proceedings before the Federal Constitutional Court. Here, termination does not constitute a final decision as to the permissibility of future petitions for banning the party. Future petitions may be filed without more, and, in particular, they do not need to be "based on new facts," in contrast to the legal consequences of a judicial decision on the merits pursuant to §47 in conjunction with § 41 BVerfGG.
The majority dissented. While this may seem like an oxymoron, it is in fact due to the requirement in § 15 IV Sent. 1 BVerfGG that in certain proceedings, including party ban proceedings, a decision that is unfavourable to the respondent political party requires a two-thirds majority. Judges Sommer, Jentsch, Di Fabio and Mellinghoff held that the government's conduct was not sufficiently egregious to justify termination of the proceedings. Instead, said the dissenting majority, the Court should have considered alternative consequences, such as refusal to admit evidence or an increased burden of proof for the government. Termination should only be permitted if "the remaining [untainted] facts" ("das restliche Tatsachenmaterial.") are insufficient to allow for continuation. Moreover,
Ein Verfahrenshindernis kann deshalb nur in besonders gelagerten Ausnahmefällen vorliegen, in denen ein anerkennenswertes Interesse schon an der Durchführung des gerichtlichen Verfahrens im Einzelfall nicht mehr besteht und eine Fortsetzung des Verfahrens rechtsstaatlich nicht mehr hinnehmbar ist. Lediglich dann, wenn die materiellen Ziele des Verfahrens tatsächlich nicht mehr oder nur bei Inkaufnahme unverhältnismäßiger Rechtsverletzungen zu verwirklichen sind, darf und muss gegebenenfalls ein zur Verfahrenseinstellung zwingendes Hindernis angenommen werden.

Therefore, a bar may only be present in specific exceptional cases, in which a cognisable interest even in the institution of the judicial proceedings in the case no longer exists, and continuation of the proceedings can no longer be tolerated under the rule of law. A bar that would require termination of the proceedings can, or sometimes must, be found only when the substantive goals of the proceedings in fact can no longer be realised, or when they can only be realised by accepting excessive violations of law