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Germany’s Far-Right Party Wins Suit Against Interior Minister

2020-06-09 14:00:45
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BERLIN — Germany’s highest court ruled in favor of the far-right Alternative for Germany party in its case against the country’s sitting interior minister on Tuesday, a symbolic victory for the populist party that has been steadily losing support in recent months as the country’s response to the coronavirus has dulled the appetite for criticism of the government.

Alternative for Germany, known by its German initials AfD, is the country’s largest opposition party, and took legal action against the interior minister, Horst Seehofer, over a 2018 interview in which he warned that the party endangered the German state.

In its decision, the court focused on the fact that the interview, conducted by the German news agency D.P.A., was also posted on Mr. Seehofer’s ministerial website.

The court defended Mr. Seehofer’s right to make the comments, but it took issue with the use of government resources to promote political speech.

“The admissibility of the federal government’s public relations work ends where advertising for, or influence against, individuals in the political competing parties or persons begins,” Andreas Vosskuhle, the court’s outgoing president, said on Tuesday.

Mr. Seehofer became interior minister in March 2018, under the fourth coalition government of Chancellor Angela Merkel. In the interview, conducted in September of that year, Mr. Seehofer criticized the AfD’s verbal attack on the president of the German Parliament. “They stand against this state,” he told the D.P.A. In another part of the interview, Mr. Seehofer characterized the AfD’s actions as destructive to the state.

The interview was posted on the government’s website for several weeks. The AfD tried to secure an emergency injunction at the time, but the court rejected the request.

Günter Krings, a representative of the interior ministry, pledged on Tuesday to vigilantly check future reports posted on the ministry’s website. He added: “We are very pleased that the court has established with truly gratifying clarity that a federal minister of the interior, even Horst Seehofer, can also take part in the political battle of opinion.”

The decision, handed down Tuesday morning, gives the AfD a rare victory at a time when it has struggled to connect with voters during the coronavirus outbreak. The German government’s response to the pandemic has been widely seen as successful, bolstering its popularity.

But the AfD has won a similar case against a former government official. The official, Johanna Wanka, explicitly criticized an AfD demonstration in a press statement in 2015, when she was the education minister. The court ruled in 2018 that Ms. Wanka was wrong to use her government position for politics.

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