The Greens (1979) and the AfD (2013) did it successfully: They founded a new party that still has a certain relevance today. The majority of new parties fail in the long term due to financing or do not make it over the five percent hurdle. One example is the Pirate Party, which entered four state parliaments in 2011/12 but was never able to repeat this success. In 2012, the party advertised with the slogan “Get ready to board” – in 2017, Schleswig-Holstein was self-deprecating: “Those who were declared dead live longer.” Other small parties dissolve after a short time due to internal quarrels or simply irrelevance, like the Blue Party of ex-AfD party leader Frauke Petry in 2019.
Now the former figurehead of the Die Linke party is publicly toying with the idea of founding his own party. In a ZDF interview, Sahra Wagenknecht said that although she did not want to endanger the Bundestag faction of the Left without necessity, the course of the party leadership was not her own. Apparently an announcement is imminent as to whether she will continue her political career with the Left or with her own party. But what does it actually take to have your own party?
Without parties, almost nothing works in the political landscape in Germany. They influence the political decision-making of the population and represent the people in institutions such as the Bundestag. Anyone who aspires to political office will have a difficult time without a party behind them.
The most important principles are regulated by the party law in Article 21 of the Basic Law. The establishment must be free and the internal order must correspond to democratic principles. In addition, party members must be natural persons, the majority of them have German citizenship, the headquarters must be in Germany and their name must be different from other parties.
According to the party law, there is no minimum number of founding members. But the board must consist of at least three people and be elected in a secret ballot. Parties should also strive to represent the people in political institutions in the long term. This distinguishes them from other political organizations such as citizens' initiatives or voter groups. If a party does not take part in federal or state elections for more than six years, it loses its legal recognition as a party.
The parties involved need a founding agreement in which the will to found this party is confirmed. The party program and statutes must also be decided, i.e. the content orientation and structure of the new group. Both must correspond to liberal democratic principles and members must have an appropriate opportunity to participate. However, there is no examination of the content of new parties, and a party ban is also difficult to enforce.
Parties finance themselves and thus also their own election campaigns, for example through membership fees or donations. However, depending on their electoral success, they receive state subsidies provided they win valid votes of at least 0.5 percent in a European or federal election, or at least one percent in a state election. Parties must publicly account for their assets, origins and expenses.
When a party is banned, it is also forbidden to create replacement organizations. If representatives sit in the Bundestag or state parliaments, they lose their mandates. The party's assets will also be dissolved and have been redistributed to charitable purposes in the past.
In the history of the Federal Republic only two parties have been banned. The Socialist Reich Party (SRP), the successor organization to the NSDAP, was classified as unconstitutional by the Federal Constitutional Court in 1952 and was therefore banned. The second party to be banned was the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) in 1956.
In contrast, a ban procedure against the National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) failed twice. Because a party must be proven that it is actively fighting the free democratic basic order and could potentially be successful, i.e. could pose a threat to democracy. Simply rejecting this order is not enough, which is why a ban on the AfD in the near future, for example, seems illusory. Although the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution is observing the party and classifying it as a "suspected right-wing extremist case" in a court-confirmed manner.
If left-wing politician Sahra Wagenknecht actually decides to found a new party, she could run for the European elections as early as spring 2024. This is supported by the fact that the hurdles in an election for the European Parliament are lower. For example, there is no five percent clause and only 4,000 signatures are required for a list to be approved for election. That's why, for example, the Animal Protection Party, which is relatively inconspicuous nationwide, is represented with a seat in the European Parliament.
Sources: The Federal Returning Officer, Federal Agency for Civic Education, Federal Ministry of Justice, Federal Constitutional Court, Federal Ministry of the Interior, “ZDF”