Free Democratic Party (FDP). The FDP has historically been Germany’s third party. A liberal party, the FDP historically provided the ‘half’ in Germany’s then two and a half system. With Germany’s proportional electoral system and with no other potential coalition partners the FDP historically acted as a potential coalition partner for both the CDU and SPD. The FDP served in every government between 1961 and 1998, besides for 1966-1969 despite only winning only around 10% of the vote in most elections. Controversially, the FDP switched coalition partner mid-parliament in 1982, changing the government from a SPD-led one to a CDU-led one without an election.
The FDP tends to support both economic and social liberalism. In contrast to the CDU the party retained some soft anti-clerical views. For instance, it strongly supports gay rights, and the FDP’s former leader, Guido Westerwelle, is openly gay. Historically it was more centrist, but it began to move rightwards in the 1980s and on economics it is now clearly the most right-wing German party. The party’s support base is highly educated, very affluent and primarily works in business. The party has, on previous occasions, proudly declared itself to be the party of the Besseverdienenden (better-earning people).
With the FDP’s move to the right, and the rise of the Greens making the FDP no longer necessary for a SPD government, the party became the natural coalition partner of the CDU. After a long stretch in opposition between 1998 and 2009, first to a SPD/Green coalition and then to a CDU/SPD one, the FDP won its best ever election result with 14.6% of the vote on the back of a populist right-wing campaign against the incumbent grand coalition. In power with the CDU, however, the FDP was sidelined by Merkel, who refused to implement its key policy of tax cuts in the current fiscal environment. Merkel’s nuclear power u-turn also apparently happened without consultation of the pro-nuclear FDP. A series of poor election results led to internal party turmoil, and the party changed leader. The party’s new leader, Philipp Rosler, was unable to bring party unity or electoral success, and when the 2013 election came, the party failed to win any seats in the Bundestag whatsoever, falling 0.2% short of the 5% threshold necessary to win parliamentary representation. The party thus received its worst ever election result the election after its best ever.
The FDP has historically tended to be a pro-European party, but the Eurozone crisis saw the party’s minority soft Eurosceptic ‘national liberal’ faction become increasingly vocal and sizeable.
On current polling the party would not win any MEPs in the case that the 5% threshold still applied, but the removal of the threshold by the constitutional court guarantees that the party will retain a, much smaller, European Parliament caucus.
The party is a member of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe. The party has historically tended to vie with the other large ALDE member, the British Liberal Democrats, for leadership of the group, with the divide also representing a left/right split in the group (FDP activists are known to occasionally dismiss the Lib Dems as ‘socialists’). Currently the two parties are jointly the same size, with 12 MEPs a piece. With both the Lib Dems and FDP likely to return far smaller groups in 2014, the internal culture of ALDE will shift a great deal.
The FDP has a below average loyalty to ALDE at 93.0%.