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Politics

News analysis: Germany's embattled Free Democrats fight on

After a series of political setbacks, the chairman of Germany's Free Democrats, Philipp Rösler, has urged members of the junior coalition partner to step up the fight for political influence at an annual party meeting.

Leader of Germany's liberal free Democratic party (FDP) Philipp Rösler

'Strong center, strong country,' read the FDP's on-stage banner

"Together we'll turn this ship around." With this closing statement the leader of the Free Democrats (FDP), Philipp Rösler, brought an end to the two-hour party rally at the Stuttgart State Theater on Friday.

It was the occasion when members of the business-friendly, free-market liberal FDP traditionally celebrate the start of the New Year. This year, however, Rösler was left to inspire a political party in the midst of a crisis.

Recent national poll ratings gave the party just 2 percent of the vote. That's a significant drop from the record breaking 15 percent the FDP earned in federal elections in 2009 to become the junior party in Chancellor Angela Merkel's governing coalition.

Before Rösler could dwell on the many successes he believed that party had enjoyed in 2011, he first had to announce the FDP's latest setback. From Germany's smallest state, Saarland, came the news that the coalition of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the Free Democrats and the Greens had collapsed. It was another kick in the teeth for the FDP's hopes to implement liberal policies nationwide.

Skeptics of this first CDU-FDP-Greens coalition had long believed that differing political agenda's would make the alliance a short lived one. The prediction became reality on Friday as the coalition between the unlikely political bed-fellows fell apart.

Schäuble faces verbal attacks

Rösler and Patrick Döring, who replaced Christian Lindner as party secretary general last month, appear to have realized that their scathing criticism of the Greens no longer reaped any benefits and turned their critiques to their conservative coalition partners.

FDP paper flags

The FDP has seen its popular support plunge to 2 percent

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble bore the brunt of the most recent verbal attacks. Shortly before Christmas, Schäuble, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, wrote an article in the German Christian magazine Christ & Welt calling for the worldwide elimination of hunger. He also demanded a limit to be set on economic growth in western countries. Rösler dismissed these demands as "irresponsible" during his speech in Stuttgart.

According the FDP, economic growth is the key to prosperity and development. To back this up, Rösler pointed to the 41 million people employed in Germany in 2011. That figure hasn't been as high since the reunification of Germany in 1990.

Rösler, who serves as economic minister in Merkel's cabinet, also warned the chancellor not to engage in discussions of creating a general minimum wage in Germany as has been put forth by some in Merkel's party.

Deceived by conservative Christians

But deeds will have to back up the words presented at the FDP assembly before it can be determined if the party has regained both its own self-confidence and the trust of the public.

For his part, Döring does not appear willing to compromise too much with their conservative coalition partners.

FDP party leadership

Rösler received a standing ovation in Stuttgart from 1,400 party supporters

In New Year's edition of the regional German newspaper Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung, Döring complained that under the former CDU Chancellor Helmut Kohl there was a principle of not doing harm to the FDP. "Today, we cannot count on that anymore," Döring said.

A conservative-liberal coalition governed under Kohl from 1982 to 1998. After rejoining the government in 2009, the FDP feels deceived by its coalition partners.

Döring recalls that the FDP had believed that entering government with the CDU and its Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU) would not only mean a change in government but also a change in policy. But the conservative Christian parties "apparently did not want that," he said.

Indeed from the perspective of the FPD, it's high time for policy changes to be made. But with parliamentary elections coming up in 2013, time isn't on their side. Many observers doubt whether there is even sufficient time for the party to gain enough support to surpass the 5 percent threshold necessary for a party to enter into parliament.

For almost a year the party has fallen short of the 5 percent hurdle in opinion polls and has lost five of seven state elections. Despite Rösler's appointment in May 2011 as the new chairman, following on from Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, the party seems to be loosing faith in itself.

Rösler's decree that the FDP could turn around its fortunes at the Stuttgart meeting may end up looking like empty campaign promises in just a few months time. A new state parliament is due to be elected in Schleswig-Holstein in May. As in the national government, a coalition of CDU-FDP coalition currently governs in the state capital Kiel - at least for now.

Author: Marcel Fuerstenau, Stuttgart / ccp

Editor: Sean Sinico

DW.DE