Germany’s domestic security service has designated the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party as a suspected right-wing extremist entity, placing the country’s largest opposition party under surveillance, the party said Wednesday.
The move allows intelligence agents from the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) to ramp up their monitoring of the AfD using surveillance methods such as wiretaps and paid informants where required.
The move, which was reported by a number of German media outlets Wednesday, follows a two-year investigation into whether the anti-immigration party, which holds 88 seats in the federal parliament, posed a threat to Germany’s liberal constitutional order.
While the BfV would not publicly confirm the reports to VICE World News, citing unspecified legal proceedings, the AfD itself publicly acknowledged the classification, calling it an unjustified and politically motivated act ahead of federal and state elections this year.
“This is a deliberate attempt to reduce the AfD's election chances with the help of the domestic intelligence service,” said a joint statement by party co-leaders Alice Weidel and Alexander Gauland.
“This is an outrageous act.”
They said the BfV was “making itself the shill for the other parties, and inflicting serious damage on the free democratic basic order that it is supposed to protect.”
German media outlets reported that the AfD had filed urgent lawsuits against the BfV’s designation, with the security service agreeing not to publicly confirm the classification or place AfD MPs or candidates under surveillance until the legal challenge was heard.
Elements within the AfD have previously been placed under surveillance, with one hardline faction, known as “The Wing,” disbanding last year after the BfV determined it had “proven extremist tendencies.”But even after formally dissolving, concerns persisted about the influence of its members within the party, with BfV President Thomas Haldenwang telling a gathering of ministers in December that the faction was gaining in power.
The party is already under surveillance by the security service of a number of German states.
German analysts were divided on how much of an impact the move would have on the far-right party, which won more than 12 percent of the national vote in federal elections in 2017, but agreed the AfD would continue to attempt to portray itself as the target of unjust persecution to its base.
“The party will declare itself a victim of political violence, that needs all the support of its partisans,” Gero Neugebauer, political scientist at the Free University of Berlin, told VICE World News.
He said the designation could deter many middle-class conservative voters from backing the party in federal elections in September, fearing their vote would be wasted. The extremist label could also dissuade government workers like police officers or teachers from standing as candidates for the party, for fear of imperilling their careers.
“Most of them will accept a political break instead of becoming problems within their institutions,” he said. The move would also likely put an end to the dream of moderates within the party, who sought to rebrand it as a conservative potential coalition partner to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling CDU.
Nicholas Potter, an expert on right-wing extremism at the Amadeu Antonio Foundation in Berlin, told VICE World News that while the AfD may be able to profit by presenting itself as a victim of a state-run smear campaign, “ultimately, it’s not good news for the party in a year with several key local, state and federal elections.”
Potter and fellow far-right expert Linus Pook, co-founder of democ.de, Germany’s Centre for Democratic Contradiction, agreed that the designation was long overdue, and criticised the BfV, whose former head has been accused of holding right-wing populist views, of failing to adequately respond to the threat posed by the party.
"Eight years after the party was founded, the observation of the AfD… comes rather late,” Pook told VICE World News.
“The public has known for years that parts of the AfD are right-wing extremists. In our estimation, the [surveillance] will not weaken or harm the AfD."