The new leader of Germany's Free Democrats (FDP), Christian Lindner, has called for the party to rethink its political role. He also condemned Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives for "breaking their word."
In his first speech as leader a special party conference held in Berlin on Saturday, Lindner urged party members to open their minds to new possibilities, and to reassess their role on the German political stage.
"From today we will begin to rebuild from the foundations," said Lindner, stressing that the party should no longer define itself merely as a coalition partner Germany's conservative Christian Democrats (CDU).
The pro-business but socially liberal party has served as a junior coalition partner and "kingmaker" for 52 of the past 64 years, since the post-war re-establishment of a German government. Lindner said that would not necessarily be the status quo in future.
"The FDP is as autonomous and independent as at any time in its history," he said in the inaugural address. "We must no longer define ourselves in terms or our closeness to, or distance from, any other party."
In the September federal elections, the Free Democrats gained only 4.8 percent of the vote, which put them below the 5 percent threshold required to enter Germany's lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, for the first time since 1949.
"Since the last general election, old entrenched ways of thinking are history," said Lindner, who in his leadership campaign had insisted that "the time for mourning is over."
Lindner took a swipe at the grand coalition, condemning Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU for "breaking its word" entering a grand coalition with the center-left Social Democrats.
In particular, he criticized an agreement that will see no reduction pension contributions that workers have to pay, as demanded by the FDP.
"The grand coalition is using its overwhelming majority to prevent the reduction of pensions contributions," said Lindner. "Pension contributions are not paid by millionaires but by skilled workers and kindergarten teachers," he said, condemning the policy as one of "expropriation."
Pro-European, to a point
Lindner also called on his party to take on the anti-euro party 'Alternativ für Deutschland' (Alternative for Germany), which has called for Germany to make an exit from the common currency and return to the Deutschmark.
"It's particularly important for us to take the AfD to task," Lindner said, adding that the FDP was a party with a "decidedly European ethos, tradition and future outlook." However, the new party leader warned against any pooling of European nations' debts.
The FDP's dramatic decline to a record low this year left the party reeling and saw its top figures, including leader Philipp Rösler, resign. Lindner announced that he would seek the party leadership just one day after the electoral embarrassment.
The 34-year-old subsequently emerged as the front runner to take the helm of the FDP, receiving about 79 percent of votes from delegates on Saturday. Also a former secretary general of the party, Lindner later presided over a comparative success in regional elections in North Rhine-Westphalia in 2012. The Free Democrats won 8.6 percent of the vote in Germany's most populous region last May, less than in the previous state polls but still enough to qualify the party for representation in the regional parliament.
rc/ph (AFP, dpa, Reuters)