Starting this year, the Desiderius Erasmus Foundation (DES), which is close to the AfD, should receive tax money for the first time – but nothing will probably come of it. A party is entitled to funding from its affiliated foundation if it has entered the Bundestag twice in a row with the strength of a parliamentary group. But the hoped-for windfall does not come.
The reason: Shortly before the 2022 federal budget was passed, the traffic light groups, with the approval of the Union and the left, introduced an additional rule for political foundations. This emerges from a note by the budget committee from May, which is available to WELT. It states: “Subsidies may not be granted if there are reasonable doubts as to whether organs or employees are loyal to the constitution.”
It is almost a decision of the other parties represented in the Bundestag on their own behalf. According to this, only the six foundations that they stand behind and that have big names like Konrad Adenauer in their titles are eligible for funding. Based on their previous work in political education, it is “assumed” according to the note that they use the grants for constitutional purposes.
DES boss Erika Steinbach, who used to belong to the Union faction in the Bundestag for a long time, said when asked: “The budget committee has made itself a judge about our constitutionality, which it is not entitled to.” Your foundation has a funding claim of around seven million euros for 2022 . The former Chancellor Helge Braun (CDU) is the chairman of the committee. How he explains the exclusion of the DES?
He did not want to answer a catalog of questions from WELT. This included the question: How do you assess the decision not to grant any grants to DES? Braun had his office informed that the application for the exclusion was “a matter for the government factions”. However, he supported this himself.
Lawyer Ulrich Vosgerau had already submitted an urgent application to the Federal Constitutional Court for the AfD in February – it is not yet possible to predict when a decision will be made. It is the third attempt by the foundation and the party to sue for state funding for the DES – the other two times they failed due to procedural hurdles. Vosgerau told WELT that the federal government is obliged to support the DES “because it also supports all other foundations related to the parties represented in the Bundestag”.
In 1986, the Federal Constitutional Court ruled on the distribution of state funds to party-affiliated foundations that the constitutional principle of equality required “that such funding adequately takes into account all permanent, important political trends in the Federal Republic of Germany”. The exclusion of DES from state funding requires a factual reason that justifies the unequal treatment, explains Cologne constitutional law expert Markus Ogorek, who himself works on a voluntary basis for the Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation, which is close to the SPD.
“Such would only exist if one could prove that the DES was anti-constitutional,” he says. However, this is a “high hurdle that requires dedicated and extensive factual statements”.
Clues could be statements by party officials and the classification of the AfD by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) as a “suspected case”. However, the DES itself is not observed. According to Ogorek, the current actions of the other parties “stand on feet of clay and harbor the risk of a judicial defeat, including the obligation to make additional payments in the millions”.
The Otto-Brenner-Foundation of the trade union IG Metall also came to the conclusion in its paper entitled “Political Education from the Far Right” that, under the current legal situation, the DES “has a good chance of enforcing funding in court”.
The German Institute for Human Rights, which is financed by the Bundestag, takes a very different view. His report from May states that the DES is “closely intertwined” with actors of the so-called New Right and also spreads right-wing extremist ideas itself. Funding is therefore not compatible with the human dignity guarantee and the international convention against racial discrimination.
However, parts of the Left Party are also classified as “anti-constitutional”. According to the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, the “Communist Platform”, the “Anti-Capitalist Left” or the Trotskyist network “marx21” belong to extremist structures that want a revolutionary overthrow. According to the new rule that has now been decided, funds in the double-digit millions would have to be cut for the Rosa-Luxemburg-Foundation, demands DES boss Steinbach.
According to research by WELT, the party-affiliated foundations, most of which are actually registered associations, will receive 659.2 million euros from the federal budget this year. This is a decrease of 2.7 percent compared to the previous year. However, in the last ten years, the grants have risen sharply. In 2013, the sum was 445.9 million euros.
So far, there is no title in the budget with which all expenses for the foundations can be recorded at a glance. Because the funds, the distribution of which is based on the average results of the last four federal elections, flow from the pots of four federal ministries: development (340 million euros), interior (160 million euros), education (71.4 million euros) and foreign affairs Office (87.8 million euros).
The funds from the Federal Ministry of the Interior are the most important for the foundations. It pays out “global grants” as a lump sum for the purposes of political education work. The Ministry of Education is responsible for the scholarship holders of the foundations. In addition, the development aid ministry transfers funds, for example, for projects that are intended to protect the climate in emerging countries.
The federal states and Brussels also support the foundations. Thanks to the inflows, huge apparatuses have now emerged: together, the six political foundations employ more than 2,200 people, and there are about as many “local workers” abroad. Around 350 representations and offices are maintained there. For comparison: Germany has 152 embassies around the world.
The opulent equipment of the foundations is a consequence of the party law, which has been tightened several times. Since then, the parties have found it increasingly difficult to access taxpayers’ money. Most recently, they received around 200 million euros in government grants – less than a third of what the foundations received this year. Unlike theirs, the party law prescribes an upper limit for funds, and annual growth is also strictly capped.
The anti-corruption association Transparency International and the taxpayers’ association are calling for a foundation law. “There, the procedure for allocating funds, the amount and the growth rates of the funds must be regulated in a transparent and comprehensible manner,” says Reiner Holznagel, President of the Taxpayers’ Association. A stop rule for grants is needed. The Federal Court of Auditors must carry out regular checks and not just check whether the funds have been used correctly.