State-spying on AfD legal after court ruling

Far-right party dubbed a ‘suspected extremist group’ and potential threat to democracy

Germany’s domestic intelligence service has been granted permission to monitor politicians from the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), dubbed a “suspected extremist group” by a court and a potential threat to democracy.

Pending an appeal from the AfD, the ruling allows Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), spy on all AfD phone calls and messages and even recruit informers inside the party.

The BfV has engaged in preliminary monitoring of the AfD since January 2019 but these were suspended after the party filed suit against BfV plans to launch a full spying operation.

After a 10-hour hearing, based on 1,000 pages of evidence, Cologne administrative court agreed with the BfV and dismissed the AfD legal challenge on Tuesday evening, noting “sufficient indications of anti-constitutional efforts within the AfD”.


Even with surveillance suspended until after an AfD appeal, the move is likely to hit its 30,000-strong membership. Civil servants in particular are likely to distance themselves from the party, given that respect for the German constitution is part of the terms of their employment.

Since its launch a decade ago as an anti-bailout party, the AfD has shed several leaders in its shift to the far-right, a process documented in 130 binders of BfV evidence.

In oral arguments, BfV lawyers argued that AfD politics are based on an “ethnic concept” of the German people, distinguishing between citizens born in Germany and so-called “Passport Germans”. This desire to keep a “pure” German ethnic composition, in contradiction to the German constitution, had resulted in a campaign of “xenophobic agitation”.

‘The Wing’

During the 2015-2016 refugee crisis, leading AfD politicians warned of “knife-wielding migrants”. Driving this shift was an extremist sub-grouping called “The Wing”, the court heard, which AfD leaders insist has been dissolved.

In its ruling the court agreed with BfV investigators that this grouping’s leaders continue to hold sway in the party’s strategic planning and had “significant influence” in the party and its youth wing.

Leading AfD figures, usually quick to comment on social media, held back with any reaction to the case on Wednesday. Only AfD co-leader Tino Chrupalla said he was “disappointed” by the ruling but would wait for the full written judgment before commenting further.

After months of in-fighting, the leader of the AfD’s moderate wing Jörg Meuthen quit in January, accusing the party of sliding into extremist territory. His departure was cited by BfV lawyers as proof that his former party was continuing its “agitation against Muslims as invaders”.

After struggling to capitalise on the Covid-19 pandemic, Germany’s far-right scene is increasingly fractured over how to respond to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Now the court ruling could weigh on party hopes in this year’s regional elections, including the major states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Lower Saxony. In last year’s federal election, the AfD lost support to finish on 10.3 per cent; in an opinion poll on Tuesday, it had slipped to seven per cent.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin