The Greens (1979) and the AfD (2013) successfully did it: They founded a new party that still has a certain relevance today. The majority of the 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 gained seats in 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 are said to be dead live longer”. Other small parties dissolve after a short time due to internal quarrels or simply irrelevance, such as the Blue Party of ex-AfD party leader Frauke Petry in 2019.

Now the former figurehead of the Left Party is publicly toying with the idea of ​​founding his own party. In a ZDF interview, Sahra Wagenknecht said that she didn’t want to endanger the parliamentary group of the left unnecessarily, but the course of the party leadership was not hers. She wants to make a decision by the end of the year as to whether she will continue her political career with the left or with her own party. But what does it take to have your own party?

Almost nothing works in the political landscape in Germany without parties. They influence the formation of the political will of the population and represent the people in institutions such as the Bundestag. Anyone aspiring to political office will find it difficult without a party to back them up.

The most important principles are regulated by the party law in Article 21 of the Basic Law. The foundation must be free and the internal order must correspond to democratic principles. In addition, party members must be natural persons, the majority must have German citizenship, their registered office must be in Germany and their name must be different from that of 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 electoral 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.

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 if 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.

The parties involved need an incorporation agreement, in which the will to establish 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 free democratic principles and members must have an appropriate opportunity to participate. However, there is no substantive examination of new parties, and a party ban is also difficult to enforce.

Banning a party also prohibits the creation of substitute organizations. If MPs sit in the Bundestag or in state parliaments, they lose their mandates. The party’s assets are also being liquidated and have been redistributed to charitable causes in the past.

In the history of the Federal Republic of Germany 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 thus banned. The second party to be banned in 1956 was the German Communist Party (KPD).

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. The pure rejection of 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 monitors the party and judicially confirms it as a “right-wing extremist suspected case”.

If left-wing politician Sahra Wagenknecht actually decides to found a new party, she could stand in 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 is why, for example, the animal protection party, which is rather 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”