BERLIN (AP) — Chancellor Angela Merkel's Cabinet decided Wednesday not to attempt a ban of the country's biggest far-right party but said it would support a bid brought by the country's states — a resolution slammed by the Germany's main Jewish group as the wrong signal to neo-Nazis.
Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said the government would help the 16 states with their effort to ban the National Democratic Party, known by its German initials NPD, and noted that already more than half of the evidence being used by the states was collected by the federal domestic intelligence agency.
"The government doesn't see that filing another application on top of that is necessary," Friedrich told reporters in a short statement before leaving without taking questions.
Germany's states in December agreed on a plan to pursue a ban of the NPD on allegations it promotes a racist, xenophobic, and anti-Semitic agenda in violation of the country's constitution. The ban would have to be imposed by the Federal Constitutional Court, the only institution capable of banning a party in Germany.
Though a second request to the court from the government to ban NPD would have little practical effect, the president of Germany's Central Council of Jews said it would have been an important signal.
"The decision of the government is disappointing and politically completely wrong," said Dieter Graumann in a statement. "Hesitation and procrastination instead of courage and determination... the government has missed the opportunity to send a clear and credible signal of a strong democracy."
Under former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, the court a decade ago rejected an attempt to ban the party after it turned out paid government informants within the NPD were partially responsible for the evidence against the party.
The failed attempt seriously embarrassed the government and produced a spike in support for the NPD, which it rode to parliaments in two states in 2004 and 2005. That gave them access to state funding — about 1.2 million euros ($1.6 million) a year — which they have used to bolster election advertising.
Opponents of a new ban attempt note that membership in the NPD has been dropping, with 6,300 people in the party in 2011 compared to 6,600 in 2010. And despite its occasional successes in economically-depressed eastern German states, the NPD is marginalized at a national level — winning only 1.5 percent of the vote in the most recent federal elections in 2009; well below the 5 percent needed to sit in Parliament.
Though officials say that none of the evidence now being used was received through informants, Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger cautioned that "there are still big hurdles in the current attempt" at a ban.
Officials have said a decision from the court is very unlikely before September's federal elections. NPD leader Holger Apfel has said that even if the German high court orders a ban, his party will appeal the decision to the European Court of Human Rights.