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Court Cases

German President Gauck calls far-right 'loonies,' judges approve

Germany's top judge has endorsed President Joachim Gauck's expression of opinion when he described neo-Nazis as "loonies" who should be stopped. A ruling on the case brought by the far-right NPD is due in 3 months.

The head judge of Germany's Constitutional Court on Tuesday backed President Gauck, saying he had a right to take a stance against neo-Nazis in defense of Germany's constitution, also known as its Basic Law.

Leading judge Andreas Vosskuhle said during a preliminary hearing that the president was entitled to defend Germany's constitution in a "very pointed, ironic and humorous way" when addressing the German public.

Gauck has often taken stands on social issues.

Words are president's main tool

Vosskuhle said it was erroneous to think that Germany's largely ceremonial head of state should be especially restrained when commenting.

The president exercised his office mainly through his personality, speeches and public appearances by expressing his opinion and issuing "warnings and encouragement" to citizens, Vosskuhle said.

The far-right NPD, which has long faced calls to be banned, had complained to the court in Karlsruhe that Gauck had overstepped his role and breached neutrality.

Numerous members of the court's judicial panel expressed the view that the NPD's chances before the court were minimal.

A formal ruling by Germany's top court is expected in about three months.

Remarks to students

The NPD had based its complaint on remarks Gauck made to some 400 school students in Berlin in August 2013, shortly before Germany's last federal parliamentary election.

Referring to hostile anti-foreigner protests organized by the NPD around a Berlin hostel for asylum-seekers, Gauck had described them as "spinners" – a German word for loony, whacko or crackpot.

"We need citizens who go on to the street and show the loonies their limits and tell them - [stop] here and no further," Gauck told the pupils.

In court on Tuesday, NPD lawyer Peter Richter claimed that Gauck's remark had breached neutrality required of a federal president at election time.

Defending values

Reading a statement from Gauck, his state secretary David Gill told the court: "The office of the federal president can only succeed if the federal president can openly formulate and defend the values and [argumentative] positions contained in our constitution."

The state-appointed lawyer acting for Gauck, Joachim Wieland, said a federal president did not need to remain neutral when it came to protecting free democratic order. A polemic statement could also be allowed, he said.

Gauck who was elected by Germany's enlarged parliamentary assembly in March 2012 was a pastor and dissident in former communist East Germany. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, he headed the archive examining documents of the feared Stasi secret police.

He recently told the Berlin foreign press association (VAP) that he also felt a need to speak out publicly after hearing pleas during his travels around the world for Germany, which has Europe's largest economy, to do much more.

ipj/dr (Reuters, AFP, dpa, epd)

DW.DE