German FDP leader under pressure to go

Sat, Jan 5, 2013, 00:00

When Germany’s Free Democratic Party (FDP) meets in Stuttgart tomorrow for its traditional “Three Kings” conference, delegates will have no gold, frankincense or myrrh for leader Philipp Rösler.

Instead, two years after taking over and nine months ahead of a possible general election wipeout, the luckless FDP leader is facing demands for him to go.

This time last year the junior partner in German chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition was on just 3 per cent support. Mr Rösler promised a “new start” but support has risen to just 4 per cent. The party that was once a coalition kingmaker in German politics, and won 14.6 per cent in the 2009 general election, is now an endangered species.

‘Difficult phase’

“The FDP is in a difficult phase and everyone in the leadership knows that we will only come out of this together,” Mr Rösler told the Bild tabloid.

Denying he was considering resigning, he added: “It’s important to hold our nerve.”

Senior party figures have given Mr Rösler an ultimatum: unless the party performs well in Lower Saxony’s January 20th state poll, he has to go. “We’ll all be thrilled if he is successful in Lower Saxony,” said FDP finance spokesman Volker Wissing. “If not, Philipp Rösler will be smart enough to accept the consequences.”

Latest polls put the party at about 5 per cent in Lower Saxony, just enough to return to the state parliament in Hanover but not necessarily enough to continue in office with the Christian Democrats (CDU).

Two years after he was ousted, former leader Guido Westerwelle warned his party that voters were rarely impressed by squabbling politicians. “In elections political content has primacy, not internal party distractions,” he said.

The FDP has struggled to leave its policy mark on the coalition it joined in 2009, backing Dr Merkel on EU crisis measures that critics see as a betrayal of its liberal economic tradition. “We need someone at the top who can credibly communicate our liberal values and then implement them,” said Hermann Otto Solms of the FDP executive.

The name mentioned as able to do this is veteran FDP politician Rainer Brüderle. Despite concerns he has neither the time nor, at 67, the energy to pull the party back from the brink, opinion polls suggest a third of Germans think he would be the better party leader – a figure that rises to three-quarters among FDP voters.