Three years after an aborted attempt to ban an extreme right-wing party, German politicians are considering changing the law to make it easier.
The new effort to rein in the National Democratic Party, or NPD, has an advocate in the Jewish community.
"A hearing to ban the NPD is the only and true way," Charlotte Knobloch, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, told reporters, while admitting that laws alone do not change views.
Critics counter that making it easier to ban a party isn't the way to go. They say the current obstacles to banning parties were put in place to counter the lawlessness of the Nazi justice system, protecting the good parties as well as the bad.
Many agree that the NPD is in the bad category. Party members have verbally attacked minority groups and called into question Germany's positions on Holocaust remembrance and its relationship to Israel.
One NPD legislator recently praised Hitler publicly, and the party's leaders and supporters oppose the European Union, routinely blaming Germany's economic woes on "foreigners."
In recent years - including in elections this fall - the NPD won enough votes to gain seats in parliaments in several former East German states, barely crossing the 5 percent threshold.
"The NPD is clearly an anti-constitutional party which uses violence to achieve its political goals," Peter Struck, head of the Social Democratic Party, told reporters Dec. 13. He urged the government to begin considering a new hearing on banning the NPD.
A two-thirds majority of 16 judges in the German Constitutional Court is required to ban a party. This should be changed to a simple majority, one Social Democratic official told the German Internet news agency Netzeitung.
Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union agrees with the Social Democrats, its coalition partner, that the NPD is anti-democratic. But Struck noted that the tough hurdle of a two-thirds majority was established after the Nazi period to safeguard democracy.
Some lawmakers suggest it would be unconstitutional, even anti-democratic, to reduce obstacles to banning a party.
In 2003, three judges halted a hearing on banning the NPD because informants who had infiltrated the party were among the court's witnesses. The judges said the informants might have influenced the NPD to engage in some of its illegal activities, making their testimony unacceptable.
But the judges emphasized that the case could be brought up again. One former judge suggested that the informants withdraw from the NPD for two years before they could take part in a hearing.
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