German Liberals’ Chief Leaves Door Open to Scholz-Led Government
(Bloomberg) -- Germany’s Free Democrats drove up the price for a government led by front-runner Olaf Scholz, although the pro-business party’s leader stopped short of ruling out a coalition with the Social Democrats and the Greens.
The SPD and the Greens -- likely allies after the Sept. 26 election -- have “completely different perspectives, completely different policy content” from the FDP, Christian Lindner, the party’s chief, said in a Bloomberg webinar on Thursday. An alliance with the three groups is “not very realistic” and would require “a lot of concessions.”
“Mr. Scholz would have to make an attractive offer,” he said. “For us, policy content is the decisive factor. There is no automatic tendency for one coalition or another.”
Political loyalties are fragmented after 16 years under Angela Merkel, and Germany’s next government will need three parties to secure a majority in parliament, according to recent polls. That puts Lindner in position to play kingmaker, even though the FDP has support from just more than a tenth of German voters.
In the final weeks of the campaign, Lindner aims to narrow the gap with the Greens to raise his party’s leverage in potential coalition talks.
“It’s up to the FDP to ensure that Germany will continue to be governed from the center and prevent a leftist shift,” he said.
He rebutted a question whether he’s eyeing the role of finance minister, but drew a hard distinction between the Greens, who want to “raise the tax burden” and loosen debt restrictions, in contrast to the FDP’s preference for lower taxes and the constitutional debt brake.
While the party’s policies align more comfortably with Merkel’s bloc, the 42-year-old who’s led the FDP since 2013 could face enormous pressure to back the SPD, if it ends up the election winner.
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Four years ago, Lindner torpedoed Merkel-led talks to form a three-way coalition with the Greens. Justifying the move, he declared at the time that “it’s better not to govern than to govern badly.”
His decision prompted more than three months of further talks before the Social Democrats reluctantly joined another “grand” coalition, and Lindner has vowed to return his party to government.
Traditionally, the FDP has played the role of the third force in German politics, backing the CDU’s Helmut Kohl as well as the SPD’s Willy Brandt and Helmut Schmidt. The party was Merkel’s junior partner during her second term from 2009 to 2013.
An energetic speaker, Lindner took over the party following the collapse of the FDP’s support, resulting in the end of its coalition with Merkel and its ouster from the Bundestag. In 2017, he led the party back into parliament, and support has held at around 11% in recent months -- in line with the last result.
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