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Could Classical Liberalism Win Big in Germany?

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Fiona Harrigan | 9.23.2021 2:45 PM

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........

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