FDP leader endures heckling and criticism at party conference

Mon, Jan 7, 2013, 00:00

Free Democratic Party (FDP) leader Philipp Rösler was warming up the audience for his traditional “Three Kings” speech yesterday when someone had an epiphany.

“Philipp Rösler you’re an asshole,” shouted the disembodied voice in Stuttgart’s state theatre. The FDP leader’s planned address, a call for unity to rally a nervous party facing a bleak election year, was off to a bumpy start.

While most German political parties have nine months to get themselves organised for the September general election, Mr Rösler (39) has just two weeks. FDP grandees have told the party leader they will hold him personally responsible for a poor election result in January 20th’s state poll in Lower Saxony.

Plunge in support

After three years as junior coalition partner in Berlin, the FDP has not delivered on tax cuts promised in 2009, and has plunged from almost 15 per cent support to the dangerous 5 per cent parliamentary cut-off.

Yesterday Mr Rösler, deputy chancellor and federal economics minister, tried to shake off the torpor by reminding the FDP of its proud political tradition. “We liberals stand for freedom,” he told delegates. “We’re unique in fighting the slow extinguishing of that flame.”

But many FDP supporters – and one heckler in particular – believe Mr Rösler has led the party into a political dead end: preaching freedom, low taxes and a hands-off state while practising policies – in particular euro zone rescue measures – that contradict all of that.

Rather than emphasise the size of the European Stability Mechanism bailout fund – a sore point in the FDP camp – Mr Rösler drew attention to new EU rules aimed at preventing future crises by monitoring euro zone members’ finances and limiting debtfinanced giveaway budgets.

The FDP would oppose any changes to the European Central Bank’s mandate as well as common-issued EU debt certificates – so-called “eurobonds” – which he described as savings “disappropriation” through inflation.

“We will never permit disappropriation . . . Hands off our ECB,” he said.

But to rescue-plan critics, he added: “Europe has its price but also its value.”

Mr Rösler’s hopes of a show of unity came to nothing yesterday, as leading critics lined up to have a go at the leader. They have demanded the May party conference be brought forward to settle the leadership question once and for all.