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Philipp Roesler, German Economy Minister and leader of the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) gestures as he gives a speech during a two-day party convention in Berlin March 9, 2013. The words read "Thereby German stays in front." REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch (GERMANY - Tags: POLITICS)
Sonderparteitag der FDP März 2013Image: Reuters

Rösler talks tough

Marcel Fürstenau / gsw
March 10, 2013

At the Free Democrats' convention, party head Philipp Rösler attacked rival parties, but also criticized his coalition partners led by Angela Merkel. Rösler hopes to see Merkel shift on citizenship law and gay marriage.


Philipp Rösler called upon his fellow Free Democrats (FDP) to show unity and confidence during the party's early convention, held in Berlin on Saturday (09.03.2013). Six months ahead of federal elections in September, Rösler surprised delegates with an unusually militant speech.

His reward: He was returned to the position of party chair with 85.7 percent of the votes - although he recorded a better performance during his first selection to the post two years ago, raking in 95 percent.

Rösler has reason to feel like a victor, though, after having been viewed by many at the beginning of the year as on his way out. The tide turned when the FDP recorded a surprising election success in Rösler's home state of Lower Saxony (9.9 percent). The young politician's opponents within his party had to change their tune.

At the FDP convention - held seven weeks earlier than originally scheduled – Rösler was on the offensive: not toward some of his opponents seated before him, but toward the party's rivals. A new parliament will be elected in the fall, and the center-right FDP hopes to continue its governing coalition with Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU). Rösler had sharp words for Germany's other mainstream parties, the Greens and the Social Democrats (SDP).

'Envied across Europe'

A prime target was the SPD's candidate for chancellor, Peer Steinbrück, and his tax plan that would - in Rösler's words - suck 40 billion euros ($52 billion) from taxpayers' pockets. Such a "tax-increase orgy," as Rösler put it, would be an attack on the country's productive class, Rösler continued.

The re-instated party chair also had harsh words for the former SPD-Green coalition government's renewable energy law, calling it a gesture of "planned economy."

On the other hand, Rösler praised the FDP and CDU/CSU coalition, which has governed Germany since 2009, for the comparatively low unemployment rate during its tenure. "We are envied across Europe, and around the world," the FDP called out to the approximately 660 delegates gathered in Berlin, adding, "The Greens dream about banning things, and of taxes when they wake up."

Partners with differing views

But Rösler didn't spare his coalition partners some criticism, lamenting that the two parties have divergent views on social policy. He delivered an impassioned appeal favoring taxation equality for homosexuals in civil partnerships, a move that Chancellor Angela Merkel has rejected in the past. "We wish that our coalition partners would take a look at the reality of people's lives in Germany," Rösler said of the issue.

However, within Rösler's own party, gay marriage remains controversial. The FDP is set to issue its definitive stance on the question at its May convention in Nuremberg.

Instituting a federal minimum wage represents another controversial topic for the party. The FDP is the sole party in parliament that has not yet lent its support on the issue. Rösler has urged a compromise, hoping to see wage agreements that reflect differences in branches of industry and regions of the country. The party chair says he continues to reject an across the board minimum wage.

The FDP and Merkel's conservatives have differing views when it comes to citizenship law, as well. Rösler's party has sought quicker ways to citizenship and supports the introduction of dual citizenship. The question resonates personally with Rösler, who was born in Vietnam but adopted as an infant by German parents.

Der FDP-Vorsitzende Philipp Rösler (l) und Fraktionschef Rainer Brüderle stimmen am 09.03.2013 beim Bundesparteitag der FDP in Berlin über einen Tagesordnungspunkt ab. Foto: Michael Kappeler/dpa
Rösler, left, and Brüderle cast their votes at the FDP conventionImage: picture-alliance/dpa

FDP re-elects leader

Humility and optimism

Those expecting a showdown between Rösler and fellow party member Rainer Brüderle would have been disappointed. Brüderle made no secret in previous months of the fact that he thought Rösler should go as the party's leader. But the party chair and federal economics and technology minister seemed to prefer harmony, instead. After all, he and Brüderle will be sharing the work in an unusual election year arrangement. Rösler will head the party, and Brüderle will serve as the FDP's top candidate in September's national elections.

"The FDP needs a strong team - a captain and a striker, who can shoot the goals," Rösler said.

And the re-elected party chair rounded his address out with a flourish of humility. He admitted having made mistakes, though he reassured party members that he had learned from his missteps. Looking ahead to parliamentary elections on September 22, he said, "Nobody should ever underestimate the FDP's resolve, unity and will to win."

That seems especially true of Rösler himself, whom nearly everyone had already written off.

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