Free democrats

Free Democratic Party (Germany)

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Free Democratic Party (Germany)

The Free Democratic Party (Freie Demokratische Partei - FDP) is a liberal political party in Germany. The party's ideology combines free-market economics with broad individual liberties. The FDP is currently the third-largest party in the Bundestag.

The FDP was formed on December 11, 1948, by local liberal parties. These were founded since 1945 by former members of the liberal German Democratic Party (DDP) and some from the center-right German People's Party (DVP). The FDP's first chairman, Theodor Heuss, was a former leader of the DDP. The FDP has traditionally been composed mainly of middle-class and upper-class Protestants who consider themselves "independents" and heirs to the European liberal tradition. The party is a relatively weak institutional party, gaining between 5.8 and 12.8% of the votes in federal elections. However, it has participated as a junior partner in all but six postwar federal governments in coalition with either the Christian Democrats (CDU) or the Social Democrats (SPD). Thus it has spent only about 15 years out of government since 1949. It has generally distinguished itself from the CDU and the SPD by advocating more market oriented policies.

The party became involved in controversy after ironically declaring itself to be the party of the "Besserverdienenden" ("better-earning people"), after the SPD had advocated a special tax for the "Besserverdienenden". Political adversaries say it opposes the interests of poorer people.

Over the course of its history the party's economic policies have shifted between social liberalism (in an European meaning) and market liberalism. However, since the 1980s the FDP has maintained a consistent free-market stance by German standards. Many of it policies acknowledge that certain aims can not be reached by market mechanisms alone and would not be seen as free-market policies in America. Examples for this are a support of a minimum welfare eligibility for everybody and strong anti-trust policies.

Regarding social issues as e.g. civil rights, immigration, its attitude to religion in the public sphere, and opposition to discrimination against homosexuals the party has always been much more social-liberal (in the American usage of the word), than either the CDU or the SPD. In contrast to SPD and CDU it is in favour of ending conscription in Germany.

In foreign policy the FDP supports European integration and transatlantic partnership.

In all federal election campaigns since the 1980s, the party has sided with the CDU and CSU, the main conservative parties in Germany. Following German reunification in 1990, the FDP merged with the Association of Free Democrats, a grouping of liberals from East Germany. During the 1990s, the FDP won between 6.2 and 11 percent of the vote in Bundestag elections. Between 1990 and 1998, it served as the junior partner in the government of Chancellor Helmut Kohl of the CDU.

In the 2005 general election the party received 9.8 percent and 61 federal deputies, an unpredicted jump from prior opinion polls. This has been explained as tactical voting by those who support strong economic reforms. However, because the CDU did less well than predicted, the FDP and the CDU could not form a coalition government. The disagreements over social issues (the FDP liberal, the CDU conservative) also complicated a coalition agreement. The party was considered as a potential member of various possible coalitions, following the election. The FDP was considered as a partner with the Social Democrats and Greens but most Free Democrats felt that the Social Democrats were not bold enough on economic reform. It was also considered in an CDU-FDP-Green Coalition, but the Greens quickly ruled not to participate in a coalition with the CDU. Instead, the CDU formed a "Grand Coalition" with the SPD, and the FDP entered the opposition.

The party's motto is "So viel Staat wie nötig, so wenig Staat wie möglich!", meaning "as much state as necessary, as little state as possible!"