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Germany

German press review: Free Democrats in turmoil

Guido Westerwelle's decision to step down as the chair of the Free Democrats and as Vice Chancellor has prompted debate in the German press about what this decision means for Westerwelle, the FDP, and the country.

Newspapers on a rack

German media aren't sure of the FDP's future

As the national executive of the Free Democrats (FDP) gathers in Berlin on Monday to consider Guido Westerwelle's offer of resignation and to discuss potential successors to the top position in the party, the German press has read into what it means that the FDP has lost so much strength since the federal elections in 2009.

Recent regional elections have showed the FDP losing ground to the Greens, which was a sign in the ranks of the FDP that it was time for a change.

However, the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger writes that pressuring Westerwelle to go may have been a hasty decision. With Westerwelle remaining in his post as foreign minister, "Westerwelle will continue to embody the past." This will make it more difficult for the party to reinvent itself. "It's a thousand times easier to feign trust than it is to win it back," the paper writes.

The Badische Zeitung, based in Freiburg in Baden-Württemberg, where the FDP lost over half of its parliamentary representation in elections in March, notes that Westerwelle's successor at the head of the party will come from a short list of people who "largely left Westerwelle to his own devices" as party head. The paper adds that Health Minister Philipp Rösler, widely tipped to succeed Westerwelle, is an interesting choice due to his stated desire to distance himself from politics.

In addition to choosing a new party leader, the future of the FDP itself also comes into question through Westerwelle's departure as party head, writes the Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung. "The FDP now faces the question of what it stands for," the paper writes, "Westerwelle's departure does not provide an answer."

However, the shake-up of the FDP could be seen as an opportunity. The Heilbronner Stimme, another paper based in Baden-Württemberg, writes that "the FDP needs a completely renovated platform more than a change in personnel," but urges caution as the FDP pursues that change: "The party has to pick itself up and dust itself off without opportunistically throwing all their conventions out the window."

The Munich-based Süddeutsche Zeitung was alone in the German press in expressing a degree of sadness over the recent decline of the FDP. After praising the party for showing continuity over the years with many different German governments, the paper said the FDP began to crumble under former Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Now, "one must mourn any democratic party that withers away. With it, a part of democratic tradition also fades."

Author: Matt Zuvela
Editor: Nicole Goebel

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