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The history of liberal parties in Germany dates back to 1861, when the German Progress Party was founded, being the first political party in the modern sense in Germany. From the establishment of the National Liberal Party in 1867 until the demise of the Weimar Republic in 1933, the liberal-democratic camp was divided into a "national-liberal" and a "left-liberal" line of tradition. After 1918 the national-liberal strain was represented by the German People's Party (DVP), the left-liberal one by the German Democratic Party (DDP, which merged into the German State Party in 1930). Both parties played an important role in government during the Weimar Republic era, but successively lost votes during the rise of the Nazi Party since the late-1920s. After the Nazi seizure of power, both liberal parties agreed to the Enabling Act of 1933 and subsequently dissolved themselves. During the 12 years of Hitler's rule, some former liberals collaborated with the Nazis (e.g. economy minister Hjalmar Schacht), while others resisted actively against Nazism (e.g. the Solf Circle).
Soon after World War II, the Soviet Union pushed for the creation of licensed "anti-fascist" parties in its occupation zone in East Germany. In July 1945, former DDP politicians Wilhelm Külz, Eugen Schiffer and Waldemar Koch called for the establishment of a pan-German liberal party. Their Liberal-Democratic Party (LDP) was soon licensed by the Soviet Military Administration in Germany, under the condition that the new party joined the pro-Soviet "Democratic Bloc".
In September 1945, citizens in Hamburg—including the anti-Nazi resistance circle "Association Free Hamburg"—established the Party of Free Democrats (PFD) as a bourgeois left-wing party and the first liberal Party in the Western occupation zones. The German Democratic Party was revived in some states of the Western occupation zones (in the Southwestern states of Württemberg-Baden and Württemberg-Hohenzollern under the name of Democratic People's Party).
Many former members of DDP and DVP however agreed to finally overcome the traditional split of German liberalism into a national-liberal and a left-liberal branch, aiming for the creation of a united liberal party. In October 1945 a liberal coalition party was founded in the state of Bremen under the name of Bremen Democratic People's Party. In January 1946, liberal state parties of the British occupation zone merged into the Free Democratic Party of the British Zone (FDP). A similar state party in Hesse, called Liberal-Democratic Party, was licensed by the US military government in January 1946. In the state of Bavaria, a Free Democratic Party was founded in May 1946.
In the first post-war state elections in 1946, liberal parties performed well in Württemberg-Baden (16.8%), Bremen (18.3%), Hamburg (18.2%) and Greater Berlin (still undivided; 9.3%). The LDP was especially strong in the October 1946 state elections of the Soviet zone—the last free parliamentary election in East Germany—obtaining an average of 24.6% (highest in Saxony-Anhalt, 29.9%, and Thuringia, 28.5%), thwarting an absolute majority of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) that was favoured by the Soviet occupation power. This disappointment to the communists however led to a change of electoral laws in the Soviet zone, cutting the autonomy of non-socialist parties like the LDP and forcing it to join the SED-dominated National Front, making it a dependent "bloc party".
The Democratic Party of Germany (DPD) was established in Rothenburg ob der Tauber on 17 March 1947 as a pan-German party of liberals from all four occupation zones. Its leaders were Theodor Heuss (representing the DVP of Württemberg-Baden in the American zone) and Wilhelm Külz (representing the LDP of the Soviet zone). However, the project failed in January 1948 as a result of disputes over Külz's pro-Soviet direction.
Founding of the party
Theodor Heuss, first chairman of the FDP and first President of West Germany
The Free Democratic Party was established on 11–12 December 1948 in Heppenheim, in Hesse, as an association of all 13 liberal state parties in the three Western zones of occupation.[Note 1] The proposed name, Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), was rejected by the delegates, who voted 64 to 25 in favour of the name Free Democratic Party (FDP).
The party's first chairman was Theodor Heuss, a member of the Democratic People's Party in Württemberg-Baden; his deputy was Franz Blücher of the FDP in the British zone. The place for the party's foundation was chosen deliberately: it was at the
Heppenheim Assembly that the moderate liberals had met in October 1847 before the March Revolution. Some regard the "Heppenheim Assembly", which was held at the Hotel Halber Mond on 10 October 1847, as a meeting of leading liberals that was the beginning of the German Revolution of 1848-49.
The FDP was founded on 11 December 1948 through the merger of nine regional liberal parties formed in 1945 from the remnants of the pre-1933 German People's Party (DVP) and the German Democratic Party (DDP), which had been active in the Weimar Republic.
1949–1969: reconstruction of Germany
"Schlußstrich drunter!"—FDP election campaign poster before the 1949 Bundestag election in Hesse calling for a halt on denazification
In the first elections to the Bundestag on 14 August 1949, the FDP won a vote share of 11.9 percent (with 12 direct mandates, particularly in Baden-Württemberg and Hesse), and thus obtained 52 of 402 seats. In September of the same year the FDP chairman Theodor Heuss was elected the first President of the Federal Republic of Germany. In his 1954 re-election, he received the best election result to date of a President with 871 of 1018 votes (85.6 percent) of the Federal Assembly. Adenauer was also elected on the proposal of the new German President with an extremely narrow majority as the first Chancellor. The FDP participated with the CDU/CSU and the DP in Adenauer's coalition cabinet: they had three ministers: Franz Blücher (Vice-Chancellor), Thomas Dehler (Justice) and Eberhard Wildermuth (housing).
On the most important economic, social and German national issues, the FDP agreed with their coalition partners, the CDU/CSU. However, the FDP recommended to the bourgeois voters a secular party that refused the religious schools and accused the opposition parties of clericalization. The FDP said they were known also as a consistent representative of the market economy, while the CDU was then dominated nominally from the
Ahlen Programme, which allowed a Third Way between capitalism and socialism. Ludwig Erhard, the "father" of the social market economy, had his followers in the early years of the Federal Republic in the Union rather than in the FDP.
The FDP won Hesse's 1950 state election with 31.8 percent, the best result in its history, through appealing to East Germans displaced by the war by including them on their ticket.
Up to the 1950s, several of the FDP's regional organizations were to the right of the CDU/CSU, which initially had ideas of some sort of Christian socialism, and even former office-holders of the Third Reich were courted with national, patriotic values. The FDP voted in parliament at the end of 1950 against the CDU- and SPD- introduced de-nazification process. At their party conference in Munich in 1951 they demanded the release of all "so-called war criminals" and welcomed the establishment of the "Association of German soldiers" of former Wehrmacht and SS members, to advance the integration of the nationalist forces in democracy. The 1953 Naumann-Affair, named after Werner Naumann, identifies old Nazis trying to infiltrate the party, which had many right-wing and nationalist members in Hesse, North Rhine-Westphalia and Lower Saxony. After the British occupation authorities had arrested seven prominent members of the
Naumann circle, the FDP federal board installed a commission of inquiry, chaired by Thomas Dehler, which particularly sharply criticized the situation in the North Rhine-Westphalian FDP. In the following years, the right wing lost power, and the extreme right increasingly sought areas of activity outside the FDP. In the 1953 federal election, the FDP received 9.5 percent of the party votes, 10.8 percent of the primary vote (with 14 direct mandates, particularly in Hamburg, Lower Saxony, Hesse, Württemberg and Bavaria) and 48 of 487 seats.
In the second term of the Bundestag, the South German Liberal democrats gained influence in the party.
Thomas Dehler, a representative of a more left-liberal course took over as party and parliamentary leader. The former Minister of Justice Dehler, who in 1933 suffered persecution by the Nazis, was known for his rhetorical focus. Generally the various regional associations were independent and translated so different from country to country accents in liberal politics. After the FDP had left in early 1956, the coalition with the CDU in North Rhine-Westphalia and made with SPD and center a new state government, were a total of 16 members of parliament, including the four federal ministers from the FDP and founded the short-lived Free People's Party, which then up was involved to the end of the legislature instead of FDP in the Federal Government. The FDP first took it to the opposition.
Only one of the smaller post-war parties, the FDP survived despite many problems. In 1957 federal elections they still reached 7.7 percent of the vote to 1990 and their last direct mandate with which they had held 41 of 497 seats in the Bundestag. However, they still remained in opposition, because the Union won an absolute majority. In the following example, the FDP sat for a nuclear-free zone in Central Europe.
Even before the election Dehler was assigned as party chairman. At the federal party in Berlin at the end January 1957 relieved him Reinhold Maier. Dehler's role as Group Chairman took over after the election of the national set very Erich Mende. Mende was also chairman of the party.
In the 1961 federal elections, it achieved 12.8 percent nationwide, the best result until then, and the FDP entered a coalition with the CDU again. Although it was committed before the election to continuing to sit in any case in a government together with Adenauer, Chancellor Adenauer was again, however, to withdraw under the proviso, after two years. These events led to the FDP being nicknamed the Umfallerpartei ("pushover party").
In the Spiegel Affair, the FDP withdrew their ministers from the federal government. Although the coalition was renewed again under Adenauer in 1962, the FDP withdrew again on the condition in October 1963. This occurred even under the new Chancellor, Ludwig Erhard. This was for Erich Mende turn the occasion to go into the cabinet: he took the rather unimportant Federal Ministry for All-German Affairs.
In the 1965 federal elections the FDP gained 9.5 percent. The coalition with the CDU in 1966 broke on the subject of tax increases and it was followed by a grand coalition between the CDU and the SPD. The opposition also pioneered a course change to: The former foreign policy and the attitude to the eastern territories were discussed. The new chairman elected delegates in 1968 Walter Scheel, a European-oriented liberals, although it came from the national liberal camp, but with Willi Weyer and Hans-Dietrich Genscher led the new center of the party. This center strove to make the FDP coalition support both major parties. Here, the Liberals approached to by their reorientation in East Germany and politics especially of the SPD.
On 21 October 1969 began the period after the election of a Social-Liberal coalition with the SPD and the German Chancellor Willy Brandt. Walter Scheel was he who initiated the foreign policy reversal. Despite a very small majority he and Willy Brandt sat by the controversial New Ostpolitik. This policy was within the FDP quite controversial, especially since after the entry into the Federal Government defeats in state elections in North Rhine-Westphalia, Lower Saxony and Saarland on 14 June 1970 followed. In Hanover and Saarbrücken, the party left the parliament.
After the federal party congress in Bonn, just a week later supported the policy of the party leadership and Scheel had confirmed in office, founded by Siegfried party rights Zoglmann 11 July 1970 a "non-partisan" organization called the National-Liberal action on the Hohensyburgstraße - to fall with the goal of ending the left-liberal course of the party and Scheel. However, this was not. Zoglmann supported in October 1970 a disapproval resolution of opposition to Treasury Secretary Alexander Möller, Erich Mende, Heinz Starke, and did the same. A little later all three declared their withdrawal from the FDP; Mende and Strong joined the CDU, Zoglmann later founded the German Union (Deutsche Union), which remained a splinter party.
The foreign policy and the socio-political changes were made in 1971 by the Freiburg theses, which were as Rowohlt Paperback sold more than 100,000 times, on a theoretical basis, the FDP is committed to "social liberalism" and social reforms. Walter Scheel was first foreign minister and vice chancellor, 1974, he was then second-liberal President and paving the way for inner-party the previous interior minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher free.
From 1969 to 1974 the FDP supported the SPD Chancellor Willy Brandt, who was succeeded by Helmut Schmidt. Already by the end of the 70s there did not seem to be enough similarities between the FDP and the SPD to form a new coalition, but the CDU/CSU chancellor candidate of Franz Josef Strauss in 1980 pushed the parties to run together again. The FDP's policies, however, began to drift apart from the SPD's, especially when it came to the economy. Within the SPD, there was strong grassroots opposition to Chancellor Helmut Schmidt's policies on the NATO Double-Track Decision. However, within the FDP, the conflicts and contrasts were always greater.
1982–1998: Kohl government, economic transition and reunification
In the fall of 1982, the FDP tore up its coalition agreement with the SPD and instead threw its support behind the CDU/CSU. On 1 October, the FDP and CDU/CSU were able to oust Schmidt and replace him with CDU party chairman Helmut Kohl as the new Chancellor. The coalition change resulted in severe internal conflicts, and the FDP then lost about 20 percent of its 86,500 members, as reflected in the general election in 1983 by a drop from 10.6 percent to 7.0 percent. The members went mostly to the SPD, the Greens and newly formed splinter parties, such as the left-liberal party Liberal Democrats (LD). The exiting members included the former FDP General Secretary and later EU Commissioner Günter Verheugen. At the party convention in November 1982, the Schleswig-Holstein state chairman Uwe Ronneburger challenged Hans-Dietrich Genscher as party chairman. Ronneburger received 186 of the votes—about 40 percent—and was just narrowly defeated by Genscher.
Young FDP members who did not agree with the politics of the FDP youth organization Young Democrats founded in 1980 the Young Liberals (JuLis). For a time there were two youth organizations side by side, until the JuLis became the new official youth wing of the FDP. The Young Democrats split from the FDP and were left as a party-independent youth organization.
At the time of reunification, the FDP's objective was a special economic zone in the former East Germany, but could not prevail against the CDU / CSU, as this would prevent any loss of votes in the five new federal states in the general election in 1990.
In all federal election campaigns since the 1980s, the party 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 and the Liberal Democratic Party of Germany.
During the political upheavals of 1989/1990 in the GDR new liberal parties emerged, like the FDP East Germany or the German Forum Party. They formed the Liberal Democratic Party, who had previously acted as a block party on the side of the SED and with Manfred Gerlach also the last Council of State of the GDR presented, the Alliance of Free Democrats, (BFD). Within the FDP came in the following years to considerable internal discussions about dealing with the former block party. Even before the reunification of Germany united on a joint congress in Hanover, the West German FDP united with the other parties to form the first all-German party. Both party factions brought the FDP a great, albeit short-lived, increase in membership. In the first all-German Bundestag elections, the CDU/CSU/FDP center-right coalition was confirmed, the FDP received 11.0 percent of the valid votes (79 seats) and won (in Halle (Saale)) the first direct mandate since 1957.
During the 1990s, the FDP won between 6.2 and 11 percent of the vote in Bundestag elections. It last participated in the federal government by representing the junior partner in the government of Chancellor Helmut Kohl of the CDU.
In 1998, the CDU/CSU - FDP coalition lost the federal election, which ended the FDP's nearly 30-year reign in government. In its 2002 campaign the FDP made an exception to its party policy of siding with the CDU/CSU when it adopted equidistance to the CDU and SPD. From 1998 until 2009 the FDP remained in the opposition until it became part of a new center-right coalition government.
2005 federal election
In the 2005 general election the party won 9.8 percent of the vote and 61 federal deputies, an unpredicted improvement from prior opinion polls. It is believed that this was partly due to tactical voting by CDU and Christian Social Union of Bavaria (CSU) alliance supporters who hoped for stronger market-oriented economic reforms than the CDU/CSU alliance called for. However, because the CDU did worse than predicted, the FDP and the CDU/CSU alliance were unable to form a coalition government. At other times, for example after the 2002 federal election, a coalition between the FDP and CDU/CSU was impossible primarily because of the weak results of the FDP.
The CDU/CSU parties had achieved the 3rd worst performance in German postwar history with only 35.2 percent of the votes. Therefore, the FDP wasn't able to form a coalition with its preferred partners, the CDU/CSU parties. As a result, the party was considered as a potential member of two other political coalitions, following the election. One possibility was a partnership between the FDP, the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) and the Alliance 90/The Greens, known as a "traffic light coalition", named after the colors of the three parties. This coalition was ruled out, because the FDP considered the Social Democrats and the Greens insufficiently committed to market-oriented economic reform. The other possibility was a CDU-FDP-Green coalition, known as a "Jamaica coalition" because of the colours of the three parties. This coalition wasn't concluded either, since the Greens ruled out participation in any coalition with the CDU/CSU. Instead, the CDU formed a Grand coalition with the SPD, and the FDP entered the opposition. FDP leader Guido Westerwelle became the unofficial leader of the opposition by virtue of the FDP's position as the largest opposition party in the Bundestag.
In the 2009 European parliament elections, the FDP received 11% of the national vote (2,888,084 votes in total) and returned 12 MEPs.
2009–2013: Merkel II government
In the national vote on 27 September 2009 the FDP increased its share of the vote by 4.8 percentage points to 14.6%, an all-time record so far. This percentage was enough to offset a decline in the CDU/CSU's vote compared to 2005, to create a CDU-FDP centre-right governing coalition in the Bundestag with a 53% majority of seats. On election night, party leader Westerwelle said his party would work to ensure that civil liberties were respected and that Germany got an "equitable tax system and better education opportunities".
The party also made gains in the two state elections held at the same time, acquiring sufficient seats for a CDU-FDP coalition in the northernmost state, Schleswig-Holstein, and gaining enough votes in left-leaning Brandenburg to clear the 5% hurdle to enter that state's parliament.
However, after reaching its best ever election result in 2009, the FDP's support collapsed. The party’s policy pledges were put on hold by Merkel as the recession of 2009 unfolded and with the onset of the European debt crisis in 2010. By the end of 2010, the party's support had dropped to as low as 5%. The FDP retained their seats in the state elections in North Rhine-Westphalia, which was held six months after the federal election, but out of the seven state elections that have been held since 2009, the FDP have lost all their seats in five of them due to failing to cross the 5% threshold.
Support for the party further eroded amid infighting and an internal rebellion over euro-area bailouts during the debt crisis.
Westerwelle stepped down as party leader in 2011 after the party was wiped out in both Saxony-Anhalt and Rhineland-Palatinate, as well as losing half its seats in Baden-Württemberg. He was replaced on 13 May 2011 by Philipp Rösler. The change in leadership failed to revive the FDP's fortunes, however, and in the next series of state elections, the party lost all its seats in Bremen, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, and Berlin. In Berlin, the party lost nearly 75% of the support they had had in the previous election.
In March 2012, the FDP lost all their seats in Saarland. However, this was averted in the Schleswig-Holstein state elections, when they achieved 8% of the vote, which was a severe loss of seats but still over the 5% threshold. In the snap elections in North Rhine-Westphalia a week later, the FDP not only crossed the threshold, but also increased its share of the votes to 2 percentage points higher than in the previous state election. This was attributed to the local leadership of Christian Lindner.
2013 federal election
The FDP last won a directly elected seat in 1990—the only time it has won a directly elected seat since 1957. The party's inability to win directly elected seats came back to haunt it at the 2013 election, in which it came up just short of the 5% threshold. With no directly elected seats, the FDP was shut out of the Bundestag for the first time since 1949. After the previous chairman Philipp Rösler then resigned, Christian Lindner took over the leadership of the party.
2014 European and state elections
In the 2014 European parliament elections, the FDP received 3.36% of the national vote (986,253 votes in total) and returned 3 MEPs. In the 2014 Brandenburg state election the party experienced a 5.8% down-swing and lost all their representatives in the Brandenburg state parliament. In the 2014 Saxony state election, the party experienced a 5.2% down-swing, again losing all of its seats. In the 2014 Thuringian state election a similar phenomenon was repeated with the party falling below the 5% threshold following a 5.1% drop in popular vote.
The party managed to enter parliament in the 2015 Bremen state election with the party receiving 6.5% of the vote and gaining 6 seats. However, it failed to get into government as a coalition between the Social Democrats and the Greens was created. In the 2016 Mecklenburg-Vorpommern state election the party failed to get into parliament despite increasing its vote share by 0.3%. The party did manage to get into parliament in Baden-Württemberg, gaining 3% of the vote and a total of 12 seats. This represents a five-seat improvement over their previous results. In the 2016 Berlin state election the party gained 4.9% of the vote and 12 seats but still failed to get into government. A red-red-green coalition was instead formed relegating the FDP to the opposition. In the 2016 Rhineland-Palatinate state election, the party managed to enter parliament receiving 6.2% of the vote and 7 seats. It also managed to enter government under a traffic light coalition. In 2016 Saxony-Anhalt state election the party narrowly missed the 5% threshold, receiving 4.9% of the vote and therefore receiving zero seats despite a 1% swing in their favour.
The 2017 North Rhine-Westphalia state election was widely considered a test of the party's future as their chairman Christian Lindner was also leading the party in that state. The party experienced a 4% swing in its favour gaining 6 seats and entering into a coalition with the CDU with a bare majority. In the 2017 Saarland state election the party again failed to gain any seats despite a 1% swing in their favour. The party gained 3 seats and increased its vote share by 3.2% in the 2017 Schleswig-Holstein state election. This success was often credited to their state chairman Wolfgang Kubicki. They also managed to re-enter the government under a Jamaica coalition.
In the federal election of 2017 the party scored 10,7% of votes and re-entered the Bundestag, winning 80 seats.