The second attempt to ban Germany's far-right National Democratic Party is under way. But the neo-Nazis are claiming that the evidence against them has come from undercover informants.
Before he joined the Dortmund city council, "SS-Siggi" apparently decided to shave off the blond locks on either side of his white beard. Siegfried Borchardt, as he is really called, gained the seat in the Ruhr city's government in May's municipal election. The man, whose arms are marked with several tattoos, began his career in 1982 by founding the soccer hooligan group "Borussenfront." Now he is a politician representing the far-right party "Die Rechte."
On Wednesday (18.06.2014), all the representatives gathered for a first constituent meeting in the town hall. Apart from a contingent of policemen, some private security officers were also on hand. There was no trouble.
"SS-Siggi" appeared with around 15 supporters, who were unable to find room in the spectators' gallery - the other parties had made sure it was already full when they arrived. This led to a surprising alliance: Alex Thieme of the National Democratic Party (NPD) - normally locked in a bitter rivalry with "Die Rechte" - came over and spoke to Borchardt. Since the NPD's popularity has dropped and the party faces a ban, Thieme apparently decided that he needed to reach out.
In December 2013, the interior ministers of Germany's states, along with the Bundesrat, the upper house of Germany's parliament, filed its suit to have the NPD banned with the German Constitutional Court. It accused the NPD of aiming to form a purely German ethnic community and destroy the country's democracy. The suit, put together by Berlin professors Christoph Möllers and Christian Waldhoff, also accuses the NPD of compromising "trust in the rule of law."
It is the second time that politicians have tried to ban the far-right party. The 2003 attempt failed when it emerged that there were informants among the leadership of the NPD, who had provided the Verfassungsschutz, Germany's domestic intelligence agency, with internal information about the NPD. Some of them could not even say for sure who's side they were really on.
That mistake is not to be repeated in the current suit, which is why all informants have been removed from the NPD's leadership, the authorities have said. The politicians involved are now sure that the material mentioned in the suit is "source-free." "That means that no informants were involved in the things that we included in the justification of the application to ban the NPD," Boris Pistorius, interior minister for Lower Saxony, told DW.
Intelligence work torpedoed
But the NPD has its doubts, and on Thursday their lawyer called for the process to be stopped on the grounds that the interior ministers' claims were implausible, and only applied to the party's federal and state leaderships. Were there informants among the local council leaderships? On top of that, they claimed it couldn't be ruled out that state spies had "spurred on" the leadership.
Far-right expert Hajo Funke doesn't think much of this accusation - the material had been re-worked so that informant material had almost certainly been removed, though there were no 100-percent guarantees.
"Not all intelligence agents always tell the truth," said Funke. But the risk was very low, he added. Pistorius, meanwhile, is not surprised by the NPD's accusation. "The party has succumbed to the temptation to try and reactivate the justification for the failure of 2003 - it thinks that might work again."
The NPD has now applied to the Constitutional Court to gain access to all informant files - but the court is unlikely to agree, since according to Funke that would undermine the work of the Verfassungsschutz.
Critics of the ban often raise the question of how dangerous the party really is, now that it has lost so much popularity, not least - some believe - because of the rise of the euro-skeptic Alternative für Deutschland (AfD). Does the NPD really need to be banned?
Pistorius' answer is that it isn't about the current level of threat, but the potential threat that the NPD poses. By the time you have answered the question of at what point the party has become a danger to the German state, it might be too late, he argues. "Historians still can't agree on when the NSDAP became so strong that the mood in Germany tipped towards 1933," he says.
At the moment, the NPD might be in decline - opinion polls show that it is likely to lose ground in upcoming elections in Brandenburg, Thuringia and Saxony. Funke predicts they will be relegated to the also-rans. That would certainly be "a victory for democratic, liberal culture," he said.
It remains unclear when the negotiations for the application will commence. If there is a court hearing and the Constitutional Court rules in favor of the ban, the NPD could appeal to the European Court of Justice. And the party leadership has announced it intends to spring some surprises.
The European Court of Justice has ruled that egg cells incapable of developing into human beings cannot be considered human embryos. Allowing patents on the use of such organisms will push forward controversial research.
The ruble's plunge in value has prompted some Russians to rush into big-ticket purchases, while others despair as to how they will repay foreign currency loans - or even afford food. Fiona Clark reports from Moscow.
Switzerland's central bank has introduced negative interest rates to protect the Swiss franc against rising sharply. It comes as the ruble crisis is causing investors to pour their money into the safe haven currency.