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Free Democratic Party
(Freie Demokratische Partei--FDP)

The Free Democratic Party, the traditional allies (some say lap dogs) of the CDU-CSU, slipped below the 5 percent threshold in 2012 but easily cleared that hurdle in the 2017 vote. On the surface, the FDP would seem to correspond to the Libertarians, with the "free" in their name signifying individual freedom from being told what to do by the government. But the affinities are only skin deep. In their previous stints in power, the FDP have been anything but anti-mainstream. They're perfectly happy to spend people's tax euros, to intervene abroad militarily and support various forms of government regulation. To further confuse Americans, the Free Democrats are also referred to as the "liberals," but that has nothing to do with the often pejorative term for effete left-wingers in the US.

Founded in 1948, the FDP goes back to the beginnings of the Federal Republic of Germany. The party for a long time was the third force and kingmaker in German politics, occupying the centrist political space between the union of conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) sister party, and the Social Democrats - forming coalitions with both.

The Free Democratic Party (Freie Demokratische Partei--FDP) is much smaller than the CDU or SPD, but its limited electoral strength masks the party's inordinate influence. Prior to the 1994 election, the FDP had experienced its worst results in national elections in 1969 (5.8 percent) and 1983 (7 percent). Both of those poor showings occurred following an FDP decision to switch coalition partners. Beyond these two exceptions, between 1949 and 1990 the FDP averaged 9.6 percent of the vote in national elections. Given its pivotal role in governing coalitions, the FDP has held over 20 percent of the cabinet posts during its time in government.

The FDP served in coalition governments with the CDU from 1949 to 1956 and from 1961 to 1966. As of mid-1995, it has governed with the CDU since 1982. The FDP governed in coalition with the SPD from 1969 to 1982. The remarkable amount of time that the FDP has spent in government has been a source of continuity in the German political process. FDP ministers carry a detailed knowledge of government personnel and procedures unsurpassed among the other parties.

The central role played by the FDP in forming governments is explained by the fact that a major party has been able to garner an outright majority of Bundestag seats only once (the CDU, in 1957); thus, the CDU and the SPD have been compelled to form coalition governments. Therefore, the FDP has participated in every government except the one from 1957 to 1961 and the Grand Coalition of 1966-69. Because the SPD and CDU/CSU enjoyed roughly equal electoral support, the FDP could choose with which major party it wished to align. This ability to make or break a ruling coalition has provided the small FDP with considerable leverage in the distribution of policy and cabinet positions. To take one example, as of mid- 1995, the FDP, in the person of Klaus Kinkel, led the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which it has held since 1969. The most prominent member of the FDP, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, served as foreign minister from 1974 until his resignation in 1992.

The FDP was created in 1948 under the chairmanship of Theodor Heuss, who served as the first president of the Federal Republic, from 1949 to 1959. The party's founders wanted the FDP to revive the liberal party tradition of pre-World War II Germany. Although there was some initial debate over what was meant by "liberal," the party did articulate a political philosophy distinct from that of the two major parties. The FDP gave precedence to the legal protection of individual freedoms. Unlike the SPD, it supported private enterprise and disavowed any socialist leaning, and, unlike the CDU/CSU, it envisioned a strictly secular path for itself. In the early 1990s, the Free Democrats remained closer to the CDU/CSU on economic issues and closer to the SPD on social and foreign policy. Many Germans view the FDP as the party of the middle, moderating the policies of both major parties.

Following the 1949 national elections, the FDP emerged as a natural ally of the CDU/CSU, most importantly because of a congruity of economic policy. During the mid- to late 1960s, the FDP, under the leadership of Walter Scheel, went through a transformation of sorts, shedding its conservative image and emphasizing the reformist aspects of its liberal tradition. Its new focus on social concerns resulted in an SPD-FDP coalition in 1969. The party's new direction was ratified at the FDP's 1971 party congress, which endorsed a program of "social liberalism." As economic conditions worsened in the early 1980s, however, the FDP returned to its earlier advocacy of economic policies more conservative than those endorsed by the SPD. The FDP was most concerned with the growing budget deficit, whereas the SPD gave priority to the impact of the economic downturn on workers. The FDP abandoned the coalition with the SPD in September 1982, shifting allegiance to the CDU/CSU. The FDP lost considerable electoral support in the 1983 federal election but regained strength in the 1987 election.

The Free Democrats benefited initially from unification, garnering 11 percent of the vote in the first all-Germany elections in December 1990. In part, the FDP's popularity in the east was directly attributable to Genscher, an eastern German by birth who played a leading role in negotiations over the international agreements that made unification possible.

In light of the FDP's strong showing in the 1990 election, it is perhaps surprising to note that, by the time of the 1994 national election, the FDP was, in many ways, a party in crisis. It had lost representation in every Land that held elections in 1994, and thus the FDP has no seats in any eastern Land legislature. Minister of Foreign Affairs Kinkel had been elected party chairman in 1993, and some critics felt that the two posts had overwhelmed him, leading him to perform inadequately in both. Other observers, however, argued that it was the party's message, rather than its messenger, that needed revamping. Increasingly, the FDP found it difficult to differentiate its policy from that of Kohl's CDU. Given the fact that the FDP had performed so poorly at the Land level in 1994, there was much speculation as to whether the party would cross the 5 percent hurdle in the national election. FDP politicians breathed a collective sigh of relief when the party garnered 6.9 percent of the vote when Germans went to the polls in October 1994. Reportedly, the FDP had over 500,000 CDU voters to thank for this outcome, because they gave their second votes tactically to the FDP to ensure a victory for Kohl. One poll showed that 63 percent of those who voted for the FDP gave the CDU as their preferred party.

The structure of the FDP is decentralized and is loosely organized at all levels. The party basically is a federation of Land organizations, each maintaining a degree of well-guarded independence. The national party headquarters lacks the power to orchestrate activities at the Land level, and the formal party institutions--the Federal Executive, Presidium, and party congress--are weak. The FDP deemed this lack of centralization necessary to accommodate differences within the party, particularly between economic conservatives and social liberals. The FDP has never sought to be a mass party, and its members accordingly have little influence on decision making.

Germanys former Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, alongside Helmut Kohl, is considered as one of the architects of German unity. He served as German foreign minister for 18 years, and held the position of vice chancellor, first in his party's coalition government with the Social Democrats under Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and after 1982, with the Christian Democrats under Helmut Kohl.

For decades, Genscher was an important figure in German domestic policies. The longtime head of the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) secured his small party a good deal of political influence for many years. The liberals always barely garnered more than the five percent of the vote needed to enter parliament - but they ruled the country as a junior coalition partner for almost 30 years nonstop.

He had a knack for recognizing historical chances and acting on them. During the Cold War Genscher provided the impetus for the famous Helsinki Final Act, thus making a major contribution to the process of dtente in Europe. Genscher served as foreign minister of West Germany, and later of the unified Germany, for a record-setting 18 years ending in 1992. He was an advocate of consensus over confrontation.

Germans will always remember the message he delivered to GDR refugees at the West German Embassy in Prague on 30 September 1989 announcing that they were permitted to travel on to the Federal Republic. The fact that the refugees camped out at the embassy in Prague were allowed to leave for the West accelerated the erosion of a disintegrating East Germany. The dynamics were made possible by Genscher's diplomatic skills.

He is credited with negotiating Germany's reunification and the withdrawal of Soviet troops in 1990. His counterparts in that negotiation were U.S. secretary of state James Baker and Soviet foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze. The eastern and western halves of Germany, divided since the end of the World War II, were reunited on October 3, 1990.

Genscher ended his service as foreign minister two years later, but remained active in the international community as recently as 2013, when he negotiated with Russian President Vladimir Putin for the release of Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky from prison. Hans-Dietrich Genscher, a long-serving German diplomat at the forefront of the struggle to reunite East and West Germany, died 01 Aprl 2016 at the age of 89.

British academic Timothy Garton Ash described "Genscherism" as an attempt "to maintain and improve Germany's ties with a wide range of states, which were themselves pursuing quite different and quite contrary objectives. This complex balancing act involved saying somewhat different things in different places." Genscherism also embraced a foreign policy "culture of restraint," while emphasizing the models of "cooperation" and "continuity" in German foreign policy.

Count Otto Lambsdorff -- a strong force in transatlantic relations and one of the country's most prolific politicians in the post-World War Two era -- died on 05 December 2009. A member of an old noble family from the Baltic region that was part of the Czarist Russian Empire, Lambsdorff was born in the Rhineland and grew up in Berlin. A WWII veteran (he lost a leg as a 17-year old on the Italian front in 1944), he returned from the war eager to participate in the reconstruction of a new democratic Germany.

Lambsdorff served as the Free Democratic Party's (FDP) Chairman and Economics Minister under Chancellors Helmut Schmidt and Helmut Kohl. His reputation as a German proponent of the free market was unrivalled. Together with his party colleague Hans-Dietrich Genscher, he was the dominant force in the FDP from the mid-1970s to the mid 1990s. Lambsdorff also made a name for himself as a staunch supporter of close US-German ties.

Guido Westerwelle was one of the most successful liberal politicians in post-WWII Germany - and one of the unluckiest. Guido Westerwelle was born on December 27, 1961 in Bad Honnef (near Bonn) to Dr. Heinrich and Erika Westerwelle. Family members note that Westerwelle inherited the unbridled, aggressive temperament of his father and the calculated, deliberate, and hesitant cleverness of his mother. His parents divorced when he was 8 years old, which according to Westerwelle himself, left a scar on his educational and physical development. He further developed his political thinking when he attended an event with Hans-Dietrich Genscher and Otto Graf Lambsdorff during the 1980 parliamentary elections. It was at that time that he decided to join the FDP.

He led the Free Democratic Party to incredible heights and was responsible for its deep fall in the September 2013 general election. His greatest hour came in the 2009 general election, when he led his FDP to win almost 15 percent of the vote - a previously unimaginable achievement.

He stood for liberalism in politics and his private life, a liberalism that was focused on only one thing: freedom. The freedom of the individual citizen and the freedom of society. He set an example by outing himself as gay - for a politician, that's still a courageous step to make on the public stage. Westerwelle officially came out rather quietly in the political world in 2005 at Merkel's 50th birthday party when he brought his partner, Michael Mronz, a sports manager, to the party.

Westerwelle also polarized. Frank, generous, open and approachable in his private life, he was regarded as an ice-cold neo-liberal. His rhetoric was as brilliant as it was cutting. There were few who could speak as well, or were as nimble with repartee or as incisive as Westerwelle. It won him fear and respect, but it didn't make him popular.

By his own admission, Westerwelle had never seriously harbored a fascination for international affairs. Foreign policy was not Westerwelle's "true love". To critics, ge lacked gravitas and is seen as too opportunistic to be trusted as foreign minister. There was a consensus among desk officers -- driven, perhaps, by political bias -- that Westerwelle was arrogant and too fixated on maintaining his "cult of personality." According to Westerwelle's political biographer Majid Sattar, Westerwelle has never been able to shake his skepticism about how the United States wields power in the world.

Westerwelle remained an enigma who was unable to establish himself as a significant voice on foreign affairs. The FDP's foreign policy spokesman Werner Hoyer -- a well known foreign policy analyst in Germany and internationally, including in the United States -- took the lead here. Westerwelle was a domestic political animal with little appetite for foreign policy and international affairs. He continued to be dependent for foreign policy advice on his mentor, former Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher. Germany's small foreign and security policy elite resented his rise into the second most powerful political office of the land.

After two years and a series of major election losses, he gave up the position of party leader. He stayed on as foreign minister, but no longer left a real mark in the position. His political career ended with the FDP's devastating election defeat in the 2013 parliamentary polls, when the party for the first time failed to garner the five percent of the vote needed to enter parliament.

He was diagnosed with leukemia in 2014, and died at the age of 54 on 18 March 2016.




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