At 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning, Thomas Haldenwang, head of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, invited his colleagues from the state offices to join a video conference. They didn’t know for sure what the focus of the meeting would be. But they had a pretty good idea: The far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD) is seen as a “suspected threat” by the BfV.

That would mean that party officials could be placed under surveillance using tools available to the secret service: observing meetings, reading emails and listening in on phone calls. AfD parliamentarians would remain off limits. On Friday, however, the Administrative Court in Cologne ruled that such surveillance could not begin until a ruling can be made on an expedited action filed by the party. The AfD is taking legal action in an attempt to block the BfV from proceeding with surveillance.

Were it allowed to go ahead, it would be a historic move against a party that began as a conservative, anti-euro movement to one suspected of being hostile to democracy. The decision to take the step was also – for the BfV and Interior Minister Horst Seehofer – a rather delicate undertaking, both politically and from the perspective of German constitutional law. On the eve of state elections in Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate, and half a year before the general election in Germany, the BfV is taking aim at the country’s largest opposition party.

As such, the reaction from AfD party co-heads Jörg Meuthen and Tino Chrupalla was hardly surprising. There is absolutely no basis for the surveillance, they said, “and it will not be held up in court,” they wrote in a statement.

But in the view of the BfV, there is no alternative. The agency believes

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