German ‘King Makers’ FDP Face Parliamentary Exile

Germany’s Free Democrats, who have held the balance of power more than any other political party in the republic’s history, were ousted from parliament after voters defected to Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats and the euro-skeptic AfD.

Party chief Philipp Roesler resigned today after the FDP suffered the biggest defeat in its postwar history. The FDP, which has served as junior partner in Christian Democrat and Social Democrat-led governments, won 4.8 percent in yesterday’s federal election, less than the 5 percent needed to enter the Bundestag, the lower house of parliament.

“This was the biggest and worst defeat for the FDP since its creation,” Roesler, 40, told reporters in Berlin today. “I take responsibility and told the party leadership that I’m offering my resignation.”

The party’s worst result came just four years after it recorded its best-ever score, 14.6 percent, to become Merkel’s coalition ally. Its ouster from the lower house marks the close of a 64-year parliamentary role, in which it championed free-market policies and personal freedoms, challenging the postwar consensus policies of the larger parties.

The FDP “paid the price for governing with Merkel: dangerous and difficult liaisons,” Carsten Nickel, an analyst with Teneo Intelligence, said in a telephone interview after exit polls were released. “Her centrist policies smothered the FDP -- she left the party no room to push its own policies.”

Helmut Kohl

The FDP’s election debacle came as the anti-euro Alternative for Germany AfD party, founded in April by a group of professors and economists, clinched 4.7 percent, also not sufficient to gain parliamentary representation.

Merkel said she “regrets” the FDP’s ouster from the Bundestag. “We have done good work together,” she said on ZDF television. After yesterday’s federal and Hesse state votes, the FDP remain in coalition government in Saxony and are additionally represented in six state parliaments.

Founded in 1948 by members of liberal parties that existed before World War II, the FDP entered the Bundestag a year later under Germany’s first chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, a Christian Democrat. It governed for 13 years in coalition with the SPD, serving under Helmut Schmidt, before aligning with the CDU in 1982 to start the 16-year reign of Helmut Kohl.

‘Two Plus Four’

Under Kohl, FDP Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher helped navigate Germany to unification during the “Two Plus Four” talks between the U.S., the Soviet Union, the U.K., France and East and West Germany. The FDP also supplied two German presidents, Theodor Heuss, the country’s first from 1949, and Walter Scheel.

Then led by Guido Westerwelle, who became foreign minister under Merkel, the FDP scored its best federal election result in 2009 with a promise to lower taxes. The party’s policy pledges were put on hold by Merkel as the recession of 2009 unfolded and with the onset of the debt crisis in 2010. It also suffered an internal party rebellion over euro-zone bailouts, which the leadership only narrowly defeated.

The FDP “promised to deliver on taxes but didn’t -- voters took note,” said Teneo’s Nickel. “Infighting, leadership problems didn’t help its case with voters.”

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.