Liberal leaders flounder in search of self-esteem | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 23.04.2012
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Liberal leaders flounder in search of self-esteem

At the FDP's national gathering, leader Philipp Rösler failed to revive the party's self-esteem. The FDP's former general secretary did better. But, is it enough for success at the next elections?

Soccer fans among the FDP's party members with the slightest tendency towards superstition would probably have preferred a different location for the party conference other than Karlsruhe. Just three years after playing in Germany's top soccer league, Karlsruhe SC is threatened with relegation to the third division.

Parallels with the pro-business and free-market, liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) seem as strange as they are astonishing: At the federal elections three years ago, the party earned some 14.6 percent of votes and became the junior partner in Germany's governing coalition with the Christian Democrats. But since then, voters have kicked the party out of five state parliaments.

But the FDP still has a chance to avoid further decline if it manages to grab the minimum of 5 percent of votes it needs to remain represented in the state parliaments of Schleswig-Holstein and North Rhine-Westphalia during elections in May. Polls, however, predicted the FDP below the 5 percent threshold.

Like Phoenix from the ashes

Judging by the signals the party congress in Karlsruhe sent out, the FDP now stands a slightly better chance to succeed - at least in North Rhine-Westphalia.

Christian Lindner managed to bring back some self-esteem to the party with his speech. In a surprise move which only deepened the party's crisis, Lindner had resigned as the party's secretary general just before Christmas. But he has since been made the FDP's candidate for the early elections in Germany's most populous state North Rhine-Westphalia, home to 20 percent of the German population. A success in North Rhine-Westphalia would provide some momentum for the FDP and its ailing head, Philipp Rösler.

Rösler took up the position in May 2011, and was hailed as the party's beacon of hope. He went on to become Germany's minister of economics and Chancellor Angela Merkel's deputy.

But he has since become the party's problem child, after failing to bring about the desired image change for the FDP. While his predecessor as party head, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, preached tax reductions, Rösler has looked to growth as the economic panacea.

Lindner giving a speech at the party meeting

Lindner's speech was the closest the party delegates got to inspiration

New leitmotiv: Growth instead of tax cuts

The 33-year-old Linder was only allotted the opening remarks in Karlsruhe, but he seized the opportunity to talk plain language to his fellow party members for 20 minutes.

"With the style and substance of our activities as a governing party we have left some people disappointed," Lindner said of his party's performance, suggesting "a certain degree of modesty in our manner."

In his own state campaign, Lindner has been successful in bringing the FDP back from the edge of insignificance.

With three weeks left until state elections on May 13, Lindner has managed to double his party's polling results, bringing the FDP up to 4 percent since being nominated as the party's candidate. If he manages to get one more percentage point the FDP will achieve what only a short while ago seemed virtually impossible: re-entering state parliament in North Rhine-Westphalia.

While it would prove to be a regional triumph, it's unclear if success in North Rhine-Westphalia would secure Rösler's position as party head.

In a letter to the party he wrote before Karlsruhe, Rösler called for support of his new focus on growth but received a lukewarm reception from party faithful.

When push comes to shove

Watch video 01:28

FDP wants a new beginning

It was the FDP's mission and task to position itself as "a power of freedom and a power of the political center," Rösler said in his speech, adding that all Germany's other parties were leaning towards the principles of social democracy.

While there was no open criticism of Rösler during the party conference, excitement seemed reserved for Lindner - who said he was not worried to take on responsibility "when push comes to shove."

Author: Marcel Fürstenau / nh
Editor: Sean Sinico

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