VLast week, the AfD failed for the second time in its attempt to legally enforce state funding for the Desiderius Erasmus Foundation. As early as 2020, the Federal Constitutional Court rejected a similar urgent application as inadmissible. In the main, however, negotiations should not begin until the end of October. Those who hope that the AfD will fail here too have good arguments. A foundation that is close to a party that is listed as an “extremist suspected case” would be reluctant to give millions for their “educational work”.
It is far from certain whether this argument will ultimately work. Because the previous handling of the legislature with political foundations can at least be called carefree. Neither the granting of public funds nor their withholding are regulated by law – although the AfD has given every reason to do so for years. Karlsruhe’s verdict on this ignorance will have consequences beyond the current occasion.
Since 1967, the budget legislature, i.e. the Bundestag, has been the sole authority to decide on state subsidies to party-affiliated foundations. The donations are lavish, in a European comparison they should be unrivalled. For the year 2022, the budget law grants six party-affiliated foundations a total of 148 million euros for their political education work. The Desiderius Erasmus Foundation is not one of them.
In 1986, the Federal Constitutional Court approved this practice. With regard to the “points of contact” between the foundations on the one hand and the political parties on the other hand, the judges emphasized the constitutionally protected equal treatment. They stipulate that state funding “appropriately takes into account all permanent, important political trends in the Federal Republic of Germany”.
The dispute was foreseeable
In the past, it was customary for a foundation to receive funds when the relevant party was elected to the Bundestag for the second time in a row. When the AfD moved into the Berlin Reichstag for the first time in 2017, it was easy to justify that the Desiderius Erasmus Foundation, which is close to it, does not receive any grants. In the early days, the Heinrich Böll Foundation and the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, which are close to the Greens, also had to get by without government support.
However, it was soon foreseeable that the AfD would move into the Bundestag a second time and then insist on the principle of equal treatment. Nevertheless, for a long time only the Greens advocated an independent legal basis for foundation financing. In the last legislative period, they received hardly any support for their push for a law that would regulate financing in a binding and transparent manner. In the coalition agreement, the traffic light parties then agreed to “legally better” secure the work and financing of the political foundations. A draft law is still not available.
So far there is only a budget note, which is part of the budget law. According to this, party-affiliated foundations are only funded if they “offer the guarantee at all times that they are committed to the free democratic basic order within the meaning of the Basic Law and stand up for its preservation”. Global grants may not be granted even if there are “justified doubts as to whether organs or employees are loyal to the constitution”.
Even the traffic light factions are at odds
The Union faction is unsure whether they consider a law to be necessary. The traffic light groups are also at odds. The reason for the displeasure is provided by the SPD, which pointed out that a law is only one of several possibilities. A simple decision in the budget law or an administrative regulation could also be considered. The suspicion is circulating in the coalition that the Social Democrats fear suffering financial disadvantages from a legal regulation with regard to the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, which is close to them.
Even the appearance of selfish calculation should be avoided. This also applies to party financing as such, which is currently also being reviewed by the Constitutional Court. If parties give the impression of self-service, it not only harms them, but representative democracy.
Does self-interest in matters of foundation funding even go so far as to accept the success of the AfD? In Karlsruhe, this could happen after a long period of legislative inactivity. It is all the more urgent for politics to act. It must finally create clear rules for the future.