The Freie Demokratische Partei (FDP) is a somewhat intriguing party in German politics. Despite never having led a government, the Free Democrats have played a crucial role in CDU- and SPD-led coalitions for several decades.
The party has changed significantly since its founding in 1948. First seen as political opportunists who cared about power more than politics, the Liberals re-invented themselves after being kicked out of the Bundestag in 2013. Christian Lindner, the party’s chairman, is determined to re-write history and lead the FDP to electoral success.
But who are the Free Democrats, and what does their pro-business, liberal stance mean for the upcoming federal election?
Here is what you need to know about the FDP.
Photo: Freie Demokratische Partei, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
History of the Party
Ever since its founding, the FDP has utilised its position as kingmaker to shape post-war German politics. A significant accomplishment for the party was its ability to stay in government for 41 consecutive years, longer than any other party.
During this time, the party enabled the rise of both CDU and SPD politicians, such as Helmut Kohl and Willy Brandt. Subsequently, the FDP is often described as a flexible party, whose centrist position has allowed it to participate in multiple governments.
The Liberals reached a crisis point in 2013 when, after 64 years of representation in parliament, they failed to reach the 5-percent hurdle required for entering the Bundestag.
Experiencing something of a revival under young and charismatic leader Christian Lindner, the FDP re-entered parliament in 2017 and gained 80 seats in the Bundestag.
The FDP is pro-business, pro-American and liberal. It believes in limited government intervention in business and in a free-market economy. This political stance reflects the party’s belief in the freedom and power of the individual, whose life should not be regulated by the state.
Most of the party’s votes come from self-employed workers and business owners, as well as professionals such as dentists and lawyers. This type of voter is usually attracted to the party’s support of free enterprise.
The party’s revival has brought two issues to the forefront of its political agenda: digitalisation and education. The Liberals want to transform Germany into a modern society and establish a new Minister of Digital Affairs. They also want to invest more money into schools and universities.
Such policies highlight the party’s refusal to follow a typical liberal outlook, and the same may be said for immigration. The FDP supports dual citizenship but believes that third-generation immigrants should choose one nationality. Indeed, Lindner was one of the first German politicians to criticise Merkel’s handling of the 2015 refugee crisis, stating: ‘By telling anyone looking for a new life that they can find it in Germany, Frau Merkel has made promises she can’t keep.’
Christian Lindner – the Party’s Saviour?
Lindner is the chairman of the FDP and the leader of the liberal parliamentary group in the Bundestag. He is often praised for having re-directed the party out of its 2013 electoral slump, winning 10.7 percent of the vote in the 2017 federal election.
Regardless of one’s political beliefs, Lindner’s rise to power is impressive. He joined the FDP as a teenager and won a seat in North-Rhine Westphalia’s regional parliament just a few years later. Lindner’s youth and political achievement became striking in a party dominated by older men.
Media-friendly and credible, Lindner encompasses everything that current chancellor Angela Merkel is not. Whilst the CDU politician enjoys hiking trips in the familiar surroundings of her home country, Lindner is more likely to be seen in Ibiza in his Porsche. He is ‘flashy, outspoken and vain,’ the exact kind of politician that Merkel has always struggled to understand and deal with.
Under Lindner, the FDP is not what it used to be. He quickly recognised the party’s failure of placing power before politics, shocking many by pulling the FDP out of coalition talks with the CDU and the Greens in 2017. Lindner’s justification? ‘It’s better not to govern than to govern badly.’
Looking Towards the Election
In recent polls, the FDP has been receiving anywhere between 10 and 14 percent of the vote. A win for the party is out of the question, but it is certainly capable of making electoral gains at the polls this September. How significant these gains will be is yet to be determined.
As is always the case in politics, only time will tell whether Lindner’s revival and re-direction of the party have been worthwhile.