European Union

Guido Rising

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A few weeks back, I wondered why, in the midst of a global financial crisis, so few European social democratic parties have capitalized on the dramatic uptick in anti-market sentiment across the continent (As previously noted there are certainly exceptions, as demonstrated by the recent election results in Iceland). Instead, in countries like the Netherlands, Poland, and Germany, many parties of the big goverment, populist right and, to a much lesser degree, free market parties have seen steady increases in support. As I mentioned in this post, Germany's free market FDP (Free Democratic Party) managed ten percent of the vote in 2005 federal election but is currently polling at around 18 percent. The Wall Street Journal has more on the strange rise of the Guido Westerwelle and the FDP:

Around the world, the economic crisis is raising concerns about unfettered markets and leading to more government intervention in the economy. But in Germany–a country long skeptical of freewheeling capitalism–a political party that believes in freer markets and smaller government is benefiting from the crisis.

The Free Democratic Party, whose credo is getting the state off the back of the individual, is riding high in opinion polls. It has notched up successes in recent regional elections and has good chances of entering government in Germany's national vote this September…

The FDP is benefiting from the fact that Germany's two large ruling parties, Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union and its partner, the Social Democrats, have backed away from business-friendly policies and shifted to the left.

"In this context many citizens find it refreshing that the FDP has remained in the center," says the party's leader, Guido Westerwelle, in an interview. His party currently enjoys the support of 14% to 16% of voters, according to recent opinion polls. This is up from the FDP's 9.8% support in Germany's last election in 2005.

What Mr. Westerwelle calls his party's "center" stance has long appeared to many Germans as a right-leaning economic policy of tax cuts and deregulation that would mainly benefit high earners. The FDP's image as a rich people's lobby helped keep the party's share of the vote low in the 1990s.

Today, however, many middle-class voters are concerned about the government's expanding role in the economy in response to the crisis, on top of longstanding grievances over Germany's high and complicated taxes and its jungle of bureaucratic red tape.

Full piece here.