It's about people's trust in politics and the impression that parties are using taxpayers' money: the Federal Constitutional Court has declared an increase in state party funding by 25 million euros to be void.
The increase to 190 million euros per year decided in 2018 by the then government factions of the Union and SPD in the Bundestag was unconstitutional, the highest German court in Karlsruhe ruled. (Az. 2 BvF 2/18)
Above all, the legislature did not adequately justify the amount of the increase at the time, explained the chairwoman of the second senate and vice-president of the court, Doris König. This means that the old legal basis for party financing applies again. What that means in concrete terms for the funds already paid out remained open at first.
"The parties must remain dependent not only politically, but also economically and organizationally on the approval and support of the citizens," emphasized König. According to the principle of state freedom of the parties, the state should not influence the process of political decision-making. Also, the scope of state financing should not continue to swell.
Members of the Greens, Left Party and FDP had an increase checked
With its decision, the court agreed with 216 MPs from the Greens, Left Party and FDP - all opposition parties at the time. They had the constitutionality of the increase checked in Karlsruhe. Even if they benefited from the increase themselves, they considered the hefty increase to be disproportionate.
König said an absolute upper limit for partial state funding should prevent citizens from getting the impression that the parties were inappropriately helping themselves from public coffers. "Because such an impression can lead to a lasting loss of acceptance for this system," argued the presiding judge.
With the votes of the Union and the SPD, the Bundestag had decided on the significant increase at the time. The parties justified this primarily with the growing challenges posed by digitization such as hackers, fake news and data protection on the Internet. In order to be able to cope with such tasks, more money is needed.
According to König, the parties have sufficiently explained that the circumstances have changed drastically - the increase could therefore be justified. However, according to her, the Basic Law also entails justification obligations. However, the law to increase party funding does not explain why the additional need due to digitization is adequately compensated for with 25 million euros and at the same time state party funding is limited to the essential level. The presiding judge also made it clear that the calculations should also take potential savings as a result of new circumstances into account.
Smaller parties also get money from public coffers
State party funding was revised following a decision by the Federal Constitutional Court in 1992. How much money parties get from the state depends primarily on how they performed in the last election. State funds are adjusted to the rate of inflation, so they rise regularly. Other sources of income include membership fees and donations.
The absolute cap for partial government funding sets the amount paid to all eligible parties. This was what the proceedings in Karlsruhe were about. Last year, after an adjustment of 2.5 percent, it was 205,050,704 euros.
There is also a relative upper limit: the state share must not exceed that which parties generate themselves, for example through membership fees. This is due to the fact that a ban on predominantly state party financing is derived from the Basic Law.
Not only parties represented in the Bundestag and state parliaments get money from public coffers, but also smaller ones. An overview by the Bundestag for the year 2021 makes it clear how much is at stake: 20 parties were therefore entitled to state funding. The spectrum ranges from around 13,600 euros for Team Todenhöfer to a good 56,110,000 euros for the SPD.
The AfD had also sued in Karlsruhe. She criticizes that the grand coalition got the law through the Bundestag in just ten days during the World Cup. In such a short time there was no time for opposition work. The constitutional court wanted to give its verdict on this at 2:00 p.m. (Az. 2 BvE 5/18) However, Judge König already said in the first announcement that the Senate had left open the question of constitutionality when the law came into existence because of the general decision.