German coalition government: A libertarian party plays kingmaker

For Ann Cathrin Riedel, the allurement of Germany’s Free Democrats, who are now in talks to form the next coalition government, lies in their defense of civil liberties, including online privacy. She ran unsuccessfully for a seat in Berlin in last month’s election. But the party did well overall, polling fourth and picking up lots of sustain from first-time voters. 

Defining the party and its allurement can be tricky. It has libertarian ideas – lower taxes, legalization of cannabis – but supports a modest welfare state and market-pushed policies to combat climate change. What may seem like contradictions, though, make perfect sense to its base. 

Why We Wrote This

Germany’s Free Democrats are tax-cutting libertarians who sustain social welfare programs and climate action. Who do they represent in Germany and how might they shape its politics?

Now it looks set to shape the policy of Germany’s first government in the post-Merkel era. Its leader is angling to run the finance ministry. Analysts say the Free Democrats could temper the spending goal of the other partners in the coalition that lean left. 

And that functional approach to policymaking and strong sense of personal liberties can be seen in Ms. Riedel’s politics. 

“A lot of people say that we’re a boys’ club and we only have interest in economics. My goal was to show another confront of my party as a young woman recommending for civil liberties and human rights,” she says. “I’m not a guy with a tie – liberalism is much broader than that.”

Berlin

If you’ve overlooked the Free Democrats, the party that finished fourth in German elections last month, you’re probably not alone.

Its last spell in government ended in 2013 when it polled so poorly that it lost all its seats in Parliament. Now the FDP has emerged as a likely partner in Germany’s next ruling coalition, one of two small parties positioned to determine who will run Europe’s largest economy. On Monday, it agreed to go into formal talks to form a coalition led by the center-left Social Democrats. 

however pinning down what the FDP stands for, and how it might shape German politics after Angela Merkel’s 16-year reign, is complicated: It has libertarian ideas – lower taxes, legalization of cannabis – but supports a modest welfare state and market-pushed policies to combat climate change. What may seem like contradictions, though, make perfect sense to its base, as long as party leaders stick to its brand of fiscal responsibility. And its resurgence highlights a strain in German society that tends to pragmatism over partisan signaling.

Why We Wrote This

Germany’s Free Democrats are tax-cutting libertarians who sustain social welfare programs and climate action. Who do they represent in Germany and how might they shape its politics?

“They care about rights and liberties however also about maintaining [society’s] basic capitalistic character perhaps with some regulation of capitalist excesses. But they’re very centrist,” says Eric Langenbacher, professor of government at Georgetown University, who compares the FDP’s politics to those of moderate Democrats like Sen. Joe Manchin and traditional Republicans like Sen. Mitt Romney.

For Ann Cathrin Riedel, a former FDP candidate in Berlin, the allurement of the party is in its defense of civil liberties in the confront of mainstream political sustain for a sweeping national data retention law seven years ago. She felt that “I have to do something now.” So, she joined the party, which opposed the policy and argued for the preservation of user-data anonymity.

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