BERLIN – Germany’s national intelligence agency has placed the far-right Alternative for Germany under scrutiny as a potential threat to the country’s democracy, officials said Wednesday, setting the stage for a battle between the state and a party that is the main opposition in Parliament. .
It is the first time in Germany’s postwar history that a party represented in the federal parliament has garnered such intense scrutiny, and it highlights a disturbing question facing the country’s institutions: what to do with a party that It is considered a danger to democracy, but which is popular in some parts of the country and has taken hold at all levels of politics?
That question has particular resonance in an election year that will see Angela Merkel resign after 16 years as chancellor, a term in which she became a symbol of a Germany that has learned from its history and welcomes refugees.
The leaders of Alternative for Germany, AfD, as the party is known, routinely accuse Muslim immigrants of being criminals, attack the press and question the universalist principles of liberal democracy.
During the coronavirus pandemic, AfD officials have participated in protests that have at times turned violent, in one case infiltrating protesters into the Parliament building. Yet even as it has become more radical, the party has established a presence in Parliament and state legislatures across the country.
Increasingly concerned about the party’s positions, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, as the national intelligence agency is known here, has spent two years examining speeches and social media posts by officials of the AfD.
A year ago, the intelligence agency classified the most radical wing of the party and its youth organization as extremists and said it would put some of its most influential leaders under surveillance.
Since then, this radical wing is suspected of extending its influence in the party, officials say, prompting the agency to investigate the entire party for extremism. The latest decision falls short of classifying the AfD as extremist, but paves the way for the agency to put it under surveillance to determine if it is.
The decision was made last Thursday, but was not announced publicly, pending an ongoing court case that the AfD has started to stop the measures against it.
Last month, an administrative court in Cologne ruled that the intelligence office, known here as the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, or its German acronym BfV, could begin investigating the AfD for extremism.
The agency declined to comment on the case Wednesday. But German officials, who requested anonymity given the sensitivity of an ongoing court case, confirmed the decision.
“Due to ongoing legal proceedings and out of respect for the court, the BfV does not make public statements on this matter,” the intelligence agency said in an emailed statement.
The founding mission of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution after World War II was to protect against the rise of political forces, primarily another Nazi party, which could once again threaten Germany’s democracy.
“We take that mission very seriously,” said Thomas Haldenwang, the agency’s president, at a press conference last year, after calling part of the AfD extremist.
“We know from German history that far-right extremism not only destroyed human lives, it destroyed democracy,” he said. “Far-right extremism and far-right terrorism are currently the greatest danger to democracy in Germany.”