Panicking German Establishment Might Ban Populists

Beat them in court rather than at the polls.

What’s happening: Speculation is increasing that Germany will attempt to ban the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) Party. While such extreme measures have never been employed, the German constitution allows for banning parties deemed a threat to “the free democratic basic order.”

Why it matters: Governments across the European Union are desperate to harness a populist wave that continues to swell. If the AfD is banned, it would send a chilling signal that democracy is acceptable only if voters check the right boxes.

The rising right: The AfD is performing well in polls, capitalizing on migration concerns and outrage against radical climate policies. The party currently ranks second place nationwide and first place in several German states.

Unprecedented: In the history of the German Republic, a significant party has never been banned except the Nazi Party after World War II. When a minor far-right party was recently sued for censure, the courts ruled that it was too small to be a threat.

Making martyrs: Some politicians are concerned that an AfD ban could create a martyr effect. Banning the party wouldn’t stop supporters from voting for other anti-establishment parties. Or AfD members could reorganize as a new party, emboldened by attacks against them.

  • Zoom out: European regimes have increasingly turned to establishment-friendly courts to decelerate populist surges.

  • Across the Atlantic: The U.S. establishment similarly claims that populist presidential candidate Donald Trump is a threat to the constitutional order and has sought to remove him from ballots by falsely blaming him for the Jan. 6 “insurrection.”