BERLIN — The far-right Alternative for Germany party on Wednesday denounced steps by the country’s domestic intelligence agency to place it under watch for suspected extremist links, opening the group to monitoring during a major election year.
The party’s parliamentary leaders, Alice Weidel and Alexander Gauland, described the move as “completely unjustified.” The party, known by its German initials AfD, holds 88 of 709 seats in the German parliament.
The designation opens up members to surveillance such as wiretapping and email monitoring, but the domestic intelligence agencies have agreed not to monitor the AfD’s elected officials while a court case in Cologne remains ongoing between the party and German authorities, according to German media reports.
“This is a deliberate attempt to reduce the AfD’s election chances with the help of the domestic intelligence service,” the party said in a statement, accusing the news of being leaked to the German press to damage its campaigning as Germany’s largest opposition party.
The decision comes as Germany enters what the press has dubbed a “superwahljahr” — a super election year — with state elections before federal elections in September that will mark an end to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s more than 15 years in power.
The AfD garnered support on a hard-line platform against illegal immigration after Merkel’s decision to throw its doors open to more than 1 million largely Middle Eastern refugees in 2015.
Some members have been linked to neo-Nazi groups, and public statements from the party’s politicians have stirred controversy. In 2018, Gauland dismissed the Nazi era as merely a “speck of bird poop” on an otherwise admirable history of Germany.
While support for the party in the polls has dropped off during the pandemic, Europe is still grappling with how to handle radicalization on the far-right fringes. France’s interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, announced Wednesday the banning of the far-right Generation Identity, saying it “incites discrimination, hatred and violence.”
That group is active across large parts of Europe, including Germany. But unlike the AfD, Generation Identity is not a player in the political mainstream.
The decision to designate the AfD a threat to democracy is politically fraught for German authorities but also in keeping with Germany’s tough stance toward the promotion of neo-Nazi ideology.
Germany’s domestic intelligence put AfD’s youth wing and one of its factions under surveillance two years ago.
The AfD has fought the looming federal designation in the courts. In late January, a court in Cologne rejected a motion from the AfD to prevent the party from being monitored until a decision is reached in a case against the intelligence agency, known as the BfV, over suspected extremist ties. The party argued that the move would hurt it in elections.
In a statement, Germany’s domestic intelligence agency declined to comment and cited the “ongoing legal proceedings.”
The classification to allow surveillance on the AfD took place Thursday, according to the German magazine Der Spiegel.
In France, the banning of Generation Identity comes at a time when Darmanin appears keen to portray himself as opposed to all kinds of extremism. France’s crackdowns on Muslim organizations suspected of supporting terrorism have faced mounting scrutiny.
Generation Identity had already expanded its reach across parts of Europe, with similar groups in Austria, Britain and Germany. The ban has also prompted concerns that it could allow the French far right to portray itself as the victim of a state crackdown before a presidential election next year.
After an attacker killed 51 people in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2019, investigators had probed links to Europe’s Identitarian movement, to which the gunman had donated money.