“Parties are associations of citizens which exert influence permanently or for longer periods of time on the formation of the political will at federal or Land level and participate in the representation of the people in the German Bundestag or regional parliaments (Landtag) provided that they offer sufficient guarantee of the sincerity of their aims in the general character of their circumstances and attendant conditions, particularly with regard to the size and strength of their organization, their memberships and their conduct in public.”
According to that definition, a political party is an association of citizens intending to influence government decision-making to a certain effect with the help of their own organisation and to send representatives to the parliaments for that purpose. The party concept thus necessarily entails an association’s will to participate in elections at federal or Land level.
As regards their organisational structure, political parties have to be organised groups of persons who have voluntarily joined for a longer period of time to pursue a common purpose, submitting to the will of the group. The definition of the legal concept of association or corporate association excludes from political party status for instance action groups formed by political parties or by parties and other associations.
2. Representation of the people in parliament
Only associations whose activities aim at participation in representing the people in central or regional government are deemed to be political parties. Whether an association pursues such a purpose is determined not only by its statutes and programmatic statements but primarily by its actual behaviour. The major precondition for aspiring to represent the people in parliament within the meaning of Article 2 Paragraph 1 of the Political Parties Act participation in the elections to central or regional government. The “representation of the people” within the meaning of Section 2 Paragraph 1 of the Political Parties Act also entails that the political party induces its members in parliament to form political groups for joint action – generally these are parliamentary groups – and exerts a certain influence on their activities.
3. Exclusion of local political associations, foreigners’ and extraterritorial parties
Section 2 Paragraph 1 of the Political Parties Act excludes from political party status all local parties and local associations of voters, even if they are organised supra-regionally. In accordance with Section 2 Paragraph 3, the following are not deemed to be political parties under German party legislation, either:
4. Parliamentary representation as a permanent goal
Section 2 Paragraph 1 of the Political Parties Act requires that representation in parliament be a goal pursued permanently or at least for a longer period of time. The intention to participate in elections only once does not suffice to obtain political party status. The intention to represent the people in parliament on a permanent basis is proven after a certain starting period by regular or at least sporadic participation in Bundestag or Land Parliament elections. If individual elections are left out, this does not affect the political party status. According to Section 2 Paragraph 2 of the Political Parties Act, an organisation loses its legal status as a party only when the intention has not been realised for a period of six years.
5. Parliamentary representation as a sincere goal
The Act on Political Parties bestows political party status only “provided that they offer sufficient guarantee of the sincerity of their aims in the general character of their circumstances and attendant conditions, particularly with regard to the size and strength of their organization, their memberships and their conduct in public”.
©2012 The Federal Returning Officer