Germany

Could Classical Liberalism Win Big in Germany?

In the country’s first post-Merkel election, Germany’s Free Democratic Party could once again be a "kingmaker."

|

A double-digit election result for a fiscally conservative, socially liberal political party may ring strange to the American ear. But it's something that Germany's Free Democratic Party (FDP) and leader Christian Lindner pulled off in 2017. He hopes to repeat the feat when the country goes to the polls this Sunday.

In this election, Germany will have to define itself in the absence of long-serving Chancellor Angela Merkel of the Christian Democratic Party (CDU). Merkel announced in 2018 that she wouldn't seek a fifth term as Germany's leader, leaving the country's political future foggy. In an unusually open field, Lindner and the Free Democrats could emerge as major players.

Because Germany is a federal parliamentary republic, its political parties must forge a coalition government that represents a majority of members of parliament after every election. There are currently six major parties in parliament. Merkel's CDU, which forms an alliance with the Christian Social Union (CSU) of Bavaria, is conservative and centrist. The Social Democratic Party (SPD) corresponds most closely with America's progressive Democrats. The Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) is a right-wing populist party that was established in 2013. The FDP is liberal in the European sense, favoring free markets and the protection of civil liberties. Die Linke (the Left) is a democratic socialist party. Germany's Greens ideologically mirror the so-named American party, though they enjoy much greater support and representation.

The CDU/CSU faction has the largest presence in the German parliament and has produced the three longest-serving chancellors in post-war Germany. The SPD has also produced three, albeit shorter tenured, post-war chancellors. But as Deutsche Welle wrote in 2013, "no other party in Germany has governed as long as the Free Democrats," which is often called a "kingmaker" in German politics despite never producing an elected chancellor. Until 2013, the FDP had formed part of the coalition government for 52 of 64 years since World War II.

In the 2013 federal election, the FDP received just 4.8 percent of the vote, down from 14.6 percent in 2009—and short of the 5 percent threshold needed to enter parliament. The FDP went from a record high result to a record low in just one election cycle. The party lost all representation in parliament for the first time in its history. "Starting tomorrow the FDP needs to be rethought," said Lindner after the defeat. He took over as the FDP's chairman after the election, the youngest person to hold that position.

The FDP sought to shed its unflattering image as "the party of better earners" (or worse, the "party of Porsche drivers"). It painted itself as an exception in Germany's increasingly polarized political field and began to craft more marketable messaging on economic and social issues. "We will occupy the political middle that the CDU, SPD and Greens have left unoccupied," Lindner wrote in a post-election book.

Lindner's charisma was instrumental in the FDP's rebranding effort. He drew attention—and praise—for a pro-entrepreneurship rant in 2015. "If one succeeds, one ends up in the sights of the Social Democratic redistribution machinery," he chastened an SPD heckler. "If one fails, one can be sure of derision and mockery." The video was viewed by millions and landed Lindner on the front page of German newspapers, often favorably. The Berlin Tagesspiegel hailed him as a welcome contrast to the "persistent fog of alternative-less Merkelism." He made an image out of being pro-tech, pro-startup, and a firebrand in Germany's typically stolid political process. In the leadup to the 2017 federal election, his trendy black-and-white campaign posters even got BuzzFeed's attention.

The FDP rallied in 2017, earned 10.7 percent of the vote, and reentered the German parliament with 80 members out of 709 total. It saw the second-largest upswing from the 2013 election, behind only the AfD.

Now polling in the double-digits ahead of Sunday's election, the FDP's performance could exceed its 2017 showing. Some FDP politicians see the party as uniquely positioned to address the priorities of young people and speak to Germany's pandemic-era woes.

One of those politicians, Andreas Pinkwart, serves as the minister for Economic Affairs, Digitization, Innovation, and Energy in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), Germany's most populous and prosperous state. Having joined the FDP in 1980, Pinkwart now works in the government of NRW Minister-President Armin Laschet, the CDU/CSU's post-Merkel candidate for chancellor.

"The Free Democratic Party, under the leadership of Christian Lindner, changed a lot by addressing the young people in different kinds of their daily life issues," says Pinkwart.

In his view, the FDP offers a unique approach to education, digitization, small businesses, and pensions. By rooting itself in classical liberal economics, the party seeks to create a more fiscally sustainable Germany for the country's young. The FDP has also made great strides in its innovation-based approach to the environment, says Pinkwart: "We are not the better Greens—but today environmental and climate issues are important subjects in our program and our daily policy."

On many of these issues, the FDP "is much closer to the interests of the young people, and therefore if you look to polls, under the age of 30, most of the young voters would like to vote for the Greens or for the liberals, but not for the others. So conservatives have 9 percent under 30," he says. "It's a real shift of the voters' interests."

Though Germany's next chancellor will not be a member of the FDP—the SPD currently leads in polls, followed by the CDU/CSU, and then the Greens—the party could play a critical role in the coalition government that this election produces.

There are many ways the FDP could find itself in the government, since opinion polls indicate that no two-party arrangement would have the numbers necessary to take power. The FDP (represented by yellow in this chart) could be part of a "traffic light" coalition, along with the SPD (red) and the Greens. It might form a "Jamaica" coalition, named after the colors of the Caribbean nation's flag, if it collaborated with the CDU/CSU (black) and the Greens. There could also be a black-red-yellow "Germany" coalition if the FDP teamed up with the SPD and CDU/CSU.

That being said, Lindner has expressed that just about the only thing his party, the SPD, and the Greens could agree on is legalizing marijuana. The FDP is also unlikely to align with the left-wing Die Linke or the right-wing AfD, neither of which has been part of a federal government coalition before.

As Pinkwart explains, the FDP's prospects could be especially fruitful if the CDU/CSU's Laschet is elected chancellor. "We could build a real close, trusting relationship between Armin Laschet and Christian Lindner," he says. "They worked closely together in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia in the state parliament over the years…there is a rich field of common trust and interest on important issues."

Under Lindner's leadership, the FDP has been unwilling to compromise in coalition talks. In 2017, German politicians tried to forge a Jamaica coalition, and nearly 60 percent of German voters backed it. But the parties "still had 237 conflicts after 50 days," Lindner recounted in an interview with ARD-Brennpunkt, a German news show.

Lindner walked out after over a month of talks, refusing to build a coalition with the CDU/CSU and the Greens. "It is better not to govern than to govern badly," he infamously said.

Germany's 2021 race is too close to call. But as The Economist writes, "In one of the most open elections the country has known, polling suggests that it will be difficult to form a coalition without the FDP." Lindner is gunning to be the country's next finance minister and has stipulated that FDP participation in a coalition is contingent on respect for "the constitutional debt brake" and no new tax increases. Those concessions would be costly for whichever party takes the helm.

But through pandemic ups and downs, Pinkwart says German voters have come to value his party's liberal principles. "Before the pandemic, we had a high level of freedom in our society…normally the people said, 'Why should we vote for freedom? We have freedom,'" he explains. "But in the pandemic, they learned that freedom is not guaranteed for everyone."

"The Free Democratic Party stepped in, not by saying there is no pandemic, like the right-wing parties did," Pinkwart continues. "Saying, 'yes, we have the pandemic, we have to react in the right way, but the government and the administration have to take care and treat the people in a fair and democratic way.'"

On its path out of the Merkel years, much remains unclear about Germany's future. In the face of that uncertainty, though, Pinkwart says, "The FDP will be a good partner for a better Europe, a stronger Europe, but also a stronger trans-Atlantic relationship."

NEXT: Has the Pandemic Finally Peaked in the U.S.?

Germany Classical liberalism Europe Politics Elections Angela Merkel

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

Please to post comments

88 responses to “Could Classical Liberalism Win Big in Germany?

  1. “Saying, ‘yes, we have the pandemic, we have to react in the right way, but the government and the administration have to take care and treat the people in a fair and democratic way.'”

    So Trumpists to the core.

    1. Seriously I don’t know why more people haven’t tried this, I work two shifts, 2 hours in the day and 2 in the evening…XYZ And i get surly a check of $12600 what’s awesome is I m working from home so I get more time with my kids.

      Try it, you won’t regret it!……………READ MORE

      1. Seriously I don’t know why more people haven’t tried this, I work two shifts, 2 hours in the day and 2 in the evening… FOR And i get surly a check of $12600 what’s Had awesome is I m working from home so I get more time with my kids.

        Try it, you won’t regret it!…………Visit Here

    2. ◄ WORK AT HOME ► I have earned $ 18394 last month by W0rking Online from home. I am a full time college student and just doing this Job in my part time for maximum 2 hrs a day using my laptop. This Job is just awesome and regular earning from this easy home Job is much times better than other regular 9 to 5 office Jobs. I suggest you all to join this right now and start earning easily by just follow details on the given WebSite……. Read More

  2. Must be nice to have a country where serious politicians understand you can’t just print currency forever.

    1. They have the benefit of dominating the Euro. I think in part why Great Britain sailed away from the EU. And perhaps why some in France are pushing for Frexit.

      1. No Le Pen and the frexiters hate immigrants. That’s their main focus.

    2. Must be nice to be so ignorant of modern monetary theory that you can’t comprehend that the debt is meaningless so long as currency inflation outpaces the debt interest rate. Does an ignorant poster with a name of “n00bdragon” even have a subscription to the New York Times. Try reading Nobel prize winner Paul Krugman’s column, if you can comprehend the diction without having to consult a dictionary every other sentence.

      1. You haven’t much clue about either inflation or interest rates do you?
        So Pauli Krugnuts is your hero huh?
        How pathetic.
        You really a rabbi?
        You sound a bit stupid to be one.

        1. Greetings! If you’re new here, RabbiHarveyWeinstein is one of our damn troll posters (the name should be a tip-off) and prolly not even Jewish. Try not to let this person get too much of a rise out of you except to parody him back.

  3. The Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) is a right-wing populist party that was established in 2013.

    Send them Trump with his escalator.

    1. Neo-fascist beliefs were put into overdrive during the refugee crisis of 2015 – 16. Thankfully, these diverse, Middle Eastern immigrants are bringing their culture and beliefs to a dying Europe. The AfD party will die with its dying white members unless the German government takes some precautionary action by banning it. On the other hand, Islam has always been quite amenable to an individual’s civil liberties and the belief in a free, open market. #OpenBorders4Europe

      1. We already have an OBL.

        1. Unfortunately we also have a turd. Who lies.

          1. And who’s absolutely clueless to boot.

        2. Good news for you I think Germany age of concent is 14, but I guess you don’t care about concent

          1. They’re freer huh?
            Such a nice place.
            So how come the UK left and a few other countries are thinking of doing the same?
            Those Brits must be self-hating masochists and so must everyone else, like the Swiss, that doesn’t want to be in that incestuous little club.

              1. I’m sure you did.
                Go see a neurosurgeon quickly.

          2. 14 huh?
            Consent to what exactly?
            You thinking of moving to Germany and becoming a pedopile?

            1. Really, I think I heard a distinctive whooshing sound about an hour ago. Right here.

              1. No, no that’s the sound of the tumor in your head getting bigger.

                1. No, asshole, it’s you being called on you ignorance.

          3. “Bwa bwa we americans are so smart we put 19 years old in jail for sexting with a 17 years old.”
            Fuck your contagious american puritanisme up your stupid american ass.

      2. On the other hand, Islam has always been quite amenable to an individual’s civil liberties and the belief in a free, open market.

        This is either a poor attempt at sarcasm or supreme stupidity.

  4. “It is better not to govern than to govern badly,”

    Words never uttered in the USA.

    1. Dirk Nowitzki?

    2. Jessie Owens?

  5. Die Dönerpartei would dominate German politics.

    1. And when their candidates are asked in the TV debates who they would invite over for dinner, everyone would chuckle.

      1. I knew someone who would sometimes register with a restaurant host as “Mrs Donner”, and if the wait got too long, she’d bail and laugh about “last call for the Donner party”.

      2. Döner made from Donner

  6. It was nice to read good news for a change. Imagine a first-world country in which classical liberals are respected and get to take part in government. Imagine a country in which mainstream media doesn’t blacklist your party or its views if you’re not one of the big two. California’s governor framed the recall vote as a Republican evil trick. What he doesn’t want to admit is that a good number of independents, Constitutionalists, and Libertarians wanted him booted out of office, or, to at least put it up for a vote right away. I bet in Germany, you can’t get away with scapegoating your problems on a single political party if several groups of people unite to oppose you.

  7. When I was a kid I never would have believed we would have a Europe freer than the United States. But now we do. They are more free in social issue, but also much more free in economic issues. Hell, even welfare-state Denmark scores higher than the US in terms of economic freedom.

    1. Hey, Brandyshit! We got what you deserved.

    2. A lot of welfare states, or least welfare-r states than America, actually have surprisingly free markets and low tax burdens. The thing about America is that we don’t actually have free markets, we have massive state intervention in the markets to specifically benefit the wealthy. Or I guess the other way to look at it is we’re a massive welfare state but our welfare mostly goes to banks and shit.

      1. A lot of welfare states, or least welfare-r states than America, actually have surprisingly free markets and low tax burdens.

        Are you effing kidding? The average German pays 50% more in income tax than the average American, and on top of that still has to pay for healthcare and retirement. And consumption is taxed at an extra 25% VAT. On top of that there are massive government fees for just about everything.

        1. I have no idea which rock all these European shills suddenly emerge from.

    3. They are more free in social issue, but also much more free in economic issues. Hell, even welfare-state Denmark scores higher than the US in terms of economic freedom.

      Believe me, having lived in several European countries: those scores are pretty worthless.

      Europe is freer than the US if and only if you are already wealthy.

    4. They’re freer huh?
      Such a nice place.
      So how come the UK left and a few other countries are thinking of doing the same?
      Those Brits must be self-hating masochists and so must everyone else, like the Swiss, that doesn’t want to be in that incestuous little club.

    5. Maybe the grass is greener on the other side, because I think America is much more free. Although at least we’re not making our children into indentured servants.

      1. Are you serious? Check out usdebtclock dot org to see how much debt-slavery each baby born in the maternity ward has on it’s little head the moment the baby is born! I’m Childfree By Choice in part because I wouldn’t wish this on any little one!

        1. America is freer than Europe by a significant margin. Germany makes California look like Libertopia.

    6. Yeah. I heard a house in Norway costs like 1 million Euros or something like that. So free.

      Europe is not freer than the US, unless you are a defeated bootlicker who thinks that being given the choice between rails A, B or C in the desert has anything to do with freedom.

  8. The FDP is polling at 11 percent.

    Clingers can’t get enough of fairy tales they believe to be true.

    1. Asshole bigots seem to stick around like clingers.

    2. The FDP isn’t a “classical liberal party” anyway.

      Most likely, the three socialist parties (Greens, SPD, and Linke) will take the bulk of the votes.

      Makes you happy. Makes me happy to: Germans deserve nothing better.

    3. This is your mind on 2-party politics.

    4. Kirkland is right, unfortunately. Forget about the FDP. They stand for what the majority of Germans do not want. They are not like us. Sorry.

  9. “Classical Liberalism”

    LOL!! Liberals are liberals, but I suppose Germany will insist at finding that out the hard way.

  10. Die Linke (the Left) is a democratic socialist party.

    No, the SPD is the democratic socialist party in Germany; one of the founding parties of the Second International, Labor and Socialist International, and Socialist International; and member of the EU’s Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (originally the “Socialist Group”).

    Die Linke is the authoritarian socialist party, the direct lineal descendant of the East German ruling party, whose current prominent members are apologists for the East German dictatorship.

      1. I mean, really, if there was a party that was the direct and continuous institutional successor to the Nazi Party, whose federal parliamentary leader in 2017 said that Nazi Germany wasn’t a dictatorship, and which had factions being monitored by the German state for anti-democratic extremism, would people like Ms. Harrigan even remotely consider calling them a “democratic” party?

        So the question we have to ask ourselves after such a characterization is whether Ms. Harrigan is deeply ignorant of German party politics, or whether she is deliberately being deceptive about German party politics.

        Given that the article is about German party politics, the fact that we need to ask the question doesn’t say much about the article’s reliability, does it?

    1. SPD’s name would suggest they’re social democrats, not democratic socialists. Have they changed?

      1. The SPD treats the two as nearly synonymous. Here’s the “Democratic Socialism” section from the English-language edition of the SPD’s Hamburg Programme:

        Our history is shaped by the idea of democratic socialism, a society of free and equal people where our core values are realized. It requires a structure in economy, state and society guaranteeing civil, political, social and economic basic rights for all people living a life without exploitation, suppression and violence, hence in social and human security.

        The end of the soviet type state socialism did not disprove the idea of democratic socialism but it clearly confirmed the orientation of social democracy towards core values. In our understanding democratic socialism remains the vision of a free and fair society in solidarity. Its realization is a permanent task for us. The principle for our actions is social democracy.

      2. Dipshit? If I call you dipshit instead of idiot, does that change what you are?

  11. I have earned $ 18394 last month by W0rking Online from home. I am a full time college student and just doing this Job in my part time for maximum 2 hrs a day using my laptop. This Job is just awesome and regular earning from this easy home Job is much times better than other regular 9 to 5 office Jobs. I suggest you all to join this right now and start earning easily by just follow details on the given WebSite……..
    here ⇢⇢⇢⇢⇢⇢⇢⇢
    easy40.com

  12. I have earned $ 18394 last month by W0rking Online from home. I am a full time college student and just doing this Job in my part time for maximum 2 hrs a day using my laptop. This Job is just awesome and regular earning from this easy home Job is much times better than other regular 9 to 5 office Jobs. I suggest you all to join this right now and start earning easily by just follow details on the given WebSite……..
    here ⇢⇢⇢⇢⇢⇢⇢⇢
    easy40.com

  13. Surely the Free Democrats and Alternative have more in common than they say they could join on?

    1. AfD’s whole thing is just racism. Like that really is their only postion.

      1. Really? I see no “racism” at all in their party program.

        Can you point out where the “racism” is supposed to be?

        1. They’re not racist. No more racist than the average, equalized, defeated German.

        2. The AfD in its official program and platform continues to pretend to be the libertarian party that it was founded as, but the libertarian founders all quit the party because it was taken over by racist demagogues.

          1. They went from Lucke to Petry to Gauland/Meuthen. You are certainly uninformed as fuck if you think they started out “libertarian”. Bernd Lucke was not a libertarian. Way too autistic to understand the full spectrum of what that even means.

            Secondly, the AfD, on average, aren’t more racist than the average German. Racism doesn’t even apply here, because their problems are more with certain nationalities, not races. And understandably so, considering the state Germany is in now. You seem to be so unaware of the distinction between race and nationality that I almost have to suspect you are german.

            The German media has always been trying to create AfD derangement syndrome in the German sheepulation. They have been denouncing Lucke as rightist and they started their nazi-whining campaign even before Petry was in charge. In a sense, they wanted the AfD to end up the way they are now, because they thought that way they can conveniently corner them. Unsurprisingly, the AfD is still way too popular, as the only viable protest platform that hasn’t been assimilated (unlike the FDP). And anyone who is going to vote for them in 2 days most certainly avoided polls.

          2. but the libertarian founders all quit the party because it was taken over by racist demagogues.

            And that’s different from the other German parties… how?

  14. I don’t know exacly how I’d describe Germany’s Green party, but it’s definitely misleading to say they gs mirror the American Green party. Aside from environmentalism, their positions are pretty idiosyncratic.

    1. To say they are positionally like the American Green party is correct, in my understanding.

      There’s a traditional/historically larger left wing party that the Green party siphons from, competes with, and defines themselves in contrast to. That’s true in most European countries and in the U.S.

      But the actual issues they use to distinguish themselves, and their relative size, is very different across the pond, and across European countries. I think the vastly greater electoral accomplishments of Greens in Europe is because parliamentary systems reward third parties, unlike the U.S. system.

  15. The “Free Democratic Party” isn’t a classically liberal party, it’s an “ordoliberal” party; “ordo” as in “Ordnung!”. Their program includes a commitment to a large social welfare state, more regulation of businesses, more government spending on R&D, more government spending on education, government investments in startups, special funding for female founders, etc.

    They may be “liberal” by German (and European) standards, but they are in no way “classical liberals”.

  16. That fat old rat Merkle is finally gone?
    The Germans are finally waking up?
    Putin’s Ass-buddy is really gone?
    Hallelujah!
    Good riddance to really bad rubbish.

    She sold out Germany and Europe to Putin’s Russia with the Nordstream pipeline by letting Russia grip Europe by the Short-And-Curlies and control its oil-and-gas supplies, thereby allowing Russia to dictate Europe’s policies to suit Putin.

    She let millions of migrants into Europe from the war and poverty stricken Middle East and North Africa from 2015 ’till now.
    Countries like Greece that are on the front lines of that vile wave are starting to shoot and sink the boats of those invading illegal immigrant-wannabes and refusing them entry into their countries because they just cannot afford to have them wrecking and draining their countries anymore.
    The whole European continent is suffering from Merkle’s brain-fart and Biden and his idiot-cronies seem hell-bent on repeating the same stupidity with illegal immigrants on the US’s Southern borders. Even though the fools can see it’s not working out well at all in Europe.

    Merkle’s migrant-asininity was also a major cause of BREXIT.
    The UK finally decided that they’d had enough of Merkle’s migrants driving up unemployment in their own country and they’d also had enough of paying for Merkle’s immigrant-parasites by giving money for a wasteful EU budget, getting nothing back, and being drained to pay for its stupid policies.
    The problems this caused are multiple.
    Just one is the UK was contributing directly about 26 billion to the EU budget.
    Now that money’s gone and it leaves a gaping hole in the EU’s budget.
    A hole that has to be filled within the next year by either reducing the budget – which probably won’t happen – or getting more money from existing contributors.
    And Germany is the biggest contributor of all.
    Also, far more importantly, now it’s not so easy anymore to export overly expensive German products to the UK anymore.
    Which is probably going to cost Germany much, much more than the UK’s EU budget contribution.
    In actual fact, it’ll probably dwarf it in comparison.
    And looking at the UK’s trade balance with the EU, that little problem is already manifesting itself bigtime.
    So, the poor Germans are going to be the biggest payers of all in more ways than one – which really hurts them where it really matters – in the pocket book.

    Hopefully that vile old thing Merkle will die in a fire while Germany elects someone that actually puts its interests first and not those of its Ancient Enemy or that of parasites that want to drain its lifeblood and mends fences with the UK – which is a major part of Europe.

    1. “Ancient Enemy?” Is that with or without 3 parentheses?

      1. Whatever you want it to be.

    2. That fat old rat Merkle is finally gone?

      Yes: she is retiring.

      The Germans are finally waking up?

      Not sure what you mean by that. Germans have become more authoritarian, more fiscally irresponsible, and more socialist, as the election shows.

      1. Interesting that you are still sticking around here. More socialist is, unfortunately, what I would call it. Despite Die Linke bordering on 5% and possibly not making it into the Bundestag, we might see a Koalition of SPD/Gruene/FDP, with the FDP being the token economists, a pretentious badge of inclusion, but ultimately inconsequential and meaningless. And this after the draconian lockdown policies Germans had to put up with. I don’t think there’s any hope for the German public. They are defeated.

      2. Also, Sinistrall or whatever the hell isn’t particularly bright as of now (though he might have been brighter years ago, telling from his general political calibration).