Opinion: Risen from the ashes | News and current affairs from Germany and around the world | DW | 30.04.2017
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Opinion: Risen from the ashes

… and looking at the Bundestag. This is how the FDP is portraying itself at its party conference. The image is clearly delineated, but it contains fuzzy areas, too – a risky mixture, says Marcel Fürstenau.

The Free Democratic Party (FDP) probably has no future if it ends up in the non-parliamentary opposition (APO) after the German general election on September 24. However, at its national party congress, the party faithful weren't wasting any time on depressing possibilities – and they do in fact have more reasons to be looking forward with optimism. Since the FDP's failure in the 2013 election, the free-market liberals have been undergoing rejuvenation therapy. The therapy is already well advanced, but there's still a long way to go. And the treatment does have its risks.

According to the doctor's report, the patient has recovered well in the west of Germany, but it's still on a drip in the east. There's an FDP parliamentary party in eight out of ten western German federal states, and in the city state of Berlin, but not one in any of the five rural states in the east. On balance, that's more than the FDP could have hoped for after the fiasco of four years ago, but it's too little for a party that wants to go on being a political force for the country as a whole.

Blindsided by the dual nationality debate

The FDP won't be able to find its way out of this dilemma in the short term, not least because the next state parliamentary elections in the east aren't until 2019. So at the moment the party is – understandably – concentrating on the imminent elections in Schleswig-Holstein (May 7) and North Rhine-Westphalia (May 14). Here, polls predict that it even has a chance of making it into double figures.

So it's certainly going to gather momentum for the general election in the autumn. However, this could slacken off again if the FDP suddenly attempts too much, and irritates the electorate with risky maneuvers. We saw an example of this when party leader Christian Lindner upset everyone shortly before the party congress with his comments on the sensitive subject of dual nationality. If Lindner gets his way, this will no longer be granted to the great-grandchildren of naturalized immigrants.

Lindner's move sparked considerable protest within his own ranks, particularly from party supporters from binational families. An understandable reaction. The FDP in particular has always placed considerable value on individuality and cultural diversity. Without a doubt, these include a person's cultural background and the desire to document it, in the full sense of the word: with a passport. There would be something arbitrary about refusing to grant dual nationality to the great-grandchildren of immigrants. When exactly do family roots get capped? With this complex topic, there is no "correct" point in time.

Kommentarfoto Marcel Fürstenau Hauptstadtstudio (DW/S. Eichberg)

DW's Marcel Fürstenau.

Applause in the wrong quarters

That aside, Lindner's ideas smack of an attempt to garner votes in the conservative national milieu. The FDP is certain to be applauded for this in the wrong quarters, such as by the Alternative for Germany (AfD). This is even more true of Lindner's answering "yes" to the question of whether Mesut Özil, a footballer of Turkish origin who plays for the German national team, should sing the German national anthem (which he doesn't). Lindner must have known that in saying this, he would spark an unnecessary debate – one that he doesn't need, either. A belated attempt to interpret his "yes" as putting the case for more constitutional patriotism merely came across as helpless.

Lindner and the FDP know how emotionally laden the subject of immigration and integration is. The party leader's tactical maneuvers on this minefield cannot be explained away as youthful recklessness: He may only be 38 years old, but he's already been active in politics half his life. Perhaps, though, there's a much simpler explanation as to why he has charged on ahead. Having arisen from its deathbed, the FDP has become a one-man show under its savior Lindner. That eventually results in overload for the person concerned – and an audience that tires of them.

Less entertainment value, more added value

At the party conference, Lindner seems to have recognized this danger. After his opening speech, which was enthusiastically received, he decided at short notice to cancel his second appearance, which had been advertised on the day's agenda. The general secretary, Nicola Beer, then had the big stage all to herself, to extol the program for the general election. A smart decision, despite the loss of some entertainment value: No one else in the FDP has Lindner's rhetorical abilities. However, "Özilgate" demonstrated that even the most gifted speaker may sometimes strike the wrong note.

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