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Germany

German health minister announces candidacy for FDP leadership

The 38-year-old Philipp Rösler has announced his candidacy as new leader of the Free Democratic Party, taking over from under-fire Guido Westerwelle. Rösler is also set to become Angela Merkel's new vice chancellor.

Guido Westerwelle and Philipp Rösler

Westerwelle, left, is making way for some new blood

Health Minister Philipp Rösler is set to become the youngest-ever head of the Free Democratic Party (FDP) following a top party meeting in Berlin on Tuesday.

Rösler would succeed Guido Westerwelle, who resigned on Sunday following devastating regional election results in the states of Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate.

Rösler, who embodies the FDP's bright, young generation, will also become Chancellor Angela Merkel's new vice chancellor. However, he was unable to force his party colleagues from their more prestigious cabinet posts.

General Secretary Christian Lindner and Economy Minister Rainer Brüderle

A generational battle is raging behind the scenes

Westerwelle was determined to stay in the Foreign Ministry, and Rainer Brüderle has refused to budge from his desk at the Economy Ministry. This forces Rösler to stay in his post as health minister, a position considered both difficult and lacking influence.

There had been speculation that Brüderle - who at 65 represents the party's old guard - was facing resignation, following an indiscreet admission that the government's moratorium on nuclear power had mainly been a campaign strategy.

Young versus old, old versus new

The power struggle between Rösler and Brüderle is not just a generational one. Brüderle is a stalwart of the business-friendly, low-taxation wing of the party, which has come to dominate its public image.

Frank Decker, politics professor at the University of Bonn, says the FDP's young guns, most notably Rösler and General Secretary Christian Lindner, would like to return the party to more traditional values - civil liberties and freedom from state intervention.

"Lindner and Rösler represent a broadening of policy," said Decker. "And they both have the intellectual caliber to organize such a process in the party. But of course the party has to pull its weight too. And I do see some problems there."

Guido Westerwelle leaves the FDP

Westerwelle led the FDP for a decade

Failure to impose policy

Rösler faces a considerable challenge to turn round the FDP's fortunes. The party's rank-and-file are impatient to see the FDP impose its agenda on Merkel's Christian Democratic Union in government.

The failure to push through either tax reductions or tax simplifications was certainly a major factor in the FDP's electoral defeat in last month's state elections, which cost Westerwelle his post.

It's in this regard that political commentators, like Gerd-Joachim von Fallois, have their doubts about Rösler's credentials.

"If you've watched Philipp Rösler here in Berlin over the last year and a half, you know he's a very clever man," said von Fallois. "The fact that he's kept the difficult post of health minister is an achievement in itself. But on a personal level he's always so friendly. You don't get the feeling that he's a power politician who can push others into a corner. You ask yourself, 'Can he do this? Is he hard enough?'"

Such concerns were underlined Tuesday by his failure to shift Brüderle. That might spell trouble for the FDP, but at least it spares Merkel a tiresome cabinet reshuffle to accommodate an unseemly power struggle.

Author: Ben Knight
Editor: Martin Kuebler

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