Free Democratic Party elects new leadership ahead of the European Elections

by Thomas Krings

Last weekend the German Liberal party (FDP) held its 70th Party Congress in Berlin. The Congress saw the incumbent chair of the party, Christian Lindner, re-elected with 87% of the delegates supporting him, a small drop compared to the 91% he got in 2013.

However, the most important item on the agenda was the election of the party’s leadership, in particular of the new Secretary General of the party.  Last January, the outgoing “SecGen” Nicola Beer was elected as the FDP’s lead candidate for the next elections to the European Parliament which will take place on 26 May this year.

Linda Teuteberg, a 38-year old, Bundestag MP from Brandenburg, was thus elected as the FDP’s new “SecGen” with an approval rate of 93%. She is the fifth woman to be elected to the office in the party. However, discussions prior to the party’s Congress were extensive as Nicola Beer launched a request to the party’s leadership to remain one of the FDP’s Deputy Chairs.

This led to Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, an MP from Düsseldorf in North-Rhine Westphalia – Christian Lindner’s home state – withdrawing her candidacy in order to avoid running against Ms Beer for that position. Some delegates did not agree with the plan to replace Ms Strack-Zimmermann by Ms Beer as an elected member of the party presidency and Nicola Beer subsequently received the approval of “only” 59% of delegates. This was not seen as reinforcing her candidacy for the European elections in May. FDP party delegates, particularly from North-Rhine Westphalia did not like that approach, as “they” lost a seat in the party’s leadership to Nicola Beer, who comes from Hessen.

However, in strategic and “domestic” party terms, Ms Beer’s move to become one of the three Deputy Party Chairs can be understood, as she will need strong backing from her party when it comes to negotiating the post-election political framework and political responsibilities in Brussels and Strasbourg. It is expected that the FDP will get up to 9-10 seats during the European elections and rumours also have it that Nicola Beer could become the new Leader of the Liberal Group in the Parliament.

Apart from these “Human Resources” issues, the FDP is currently on the lookout for a new role in the political landscape, as the current political setting in Germany has changed and requires tactical re-orientation on the part of the FDP. The Greens seem to be their most prominent competitor, together with CDU’s Peter Altmaier, the German Minister of Economics. These two were mentioned and heavily criticised in almost every speech during the Party Congress in Berlin.