Reborn German liberals could spell trouble for Merkel

BERLIN (Reuters) – Later this year, Angela Merkel may form a new government with a party whose leader says Greece should leave the euro, Russia can keep Crimea and refugees will have to go home.

The Free Democrats (FDP), a socially liberal, pro-business party, were long seen as the natural partners of Chancellor Merkel’s conservatives.

They ruled in coalition with her mentor, former Chancellor Helmut Kohl, for 16 years and were junior partners in Merkel’s second government, from 2009 to 2013.

But after crashing out of the German parliament four years ago, the FDP — also known as the Liberals — were forced to reinvent themselves. And the new incarnation, led by an ambitious 38-year-old who preaches an ultra-hard line on Europe, has unsettled the German political establishment, including members of Merkel’s party.

Nevertheless, if her conservatives can form a government with the FDP after a Sept. 24 election, Merkel will have little choice but to link up with the party and its young leader Christian Lindner.

(For a graphic on German federal elections click tmsnrt.rs/2h0NqCT)

For her center-right CDU/CSU, the prospect of reviving an alliance with the party’s historic partner will be hard to resist, especially after four years of a right-left coalition with their longtime rivals, the Social Democrats (SPD).

“Merkel’s horror scenario is a narrow majority with the FDP,” said Frank Decker, a political scientist who was Lindner’s thesis adviser at Bonn University. “She would have no choice. She would be condemned to govern with them.”

Polls give Merkel’s CDU/CSU bloc and the FDP a combined score of roughly 45 percent, just shy of a majority. If they do fall short, the FDP could still enter the government as part of an unwieldy three-way coalition that also includes the Greens.

In 2013, after its former leader Guido Westerwelle failed to deliver on his promise of tax cuts, the party scored just 4.8 percent, the first time in the post-war era it failed to make the 5 percent threshold needed to enter parliament. Later this month, it is expected to double its score of four years ago.

BLACK AND WHITE AND BROODING

Lindner, with his banker suits and designer stubble, has almost single-handedly hauled the FDP back from the political wilderness.

German media have likened him to French President Emmanuel Macron: the two are just a year apart in age and share a healthy self-esteem. In the FDP’s highly personalized campaign posters, a…

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