Pro-business Free Democrats in Germany could be key to forming a government

VSHISTIAN LINDNER, the leader of the German Liberal Democratic Party (FDP), is likely to become a crucial figure after the election. Polls suggest it will be difficult to form a coalition without FDP. Mr Lindner, 42, relishes the chance to cap his rapid political rise with a post in Germany’s next government, ideally as finance minister. His enemies would see this as their worst nightmare.

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The FDP advocates tax cuts, a reduction in administrative formalities, a reform of pensions and limits to European fiscal integration. More recently, he called for faster relaxation of the foreclosure rules. The party has doubled its support in the past year, in part thanks to the collapse of the Conservative Party CDU/CSU. A lively dresser and charismatic performer who regularly tops lists of “Germany’s most prominent politicians,” Mr. Lindner dominates his party to the exclusion of his other talents. At a recent campaign event in Berlin, he was swarmed with admirers after delivering a heated speech in which he fiercely criticized the Greens’ plans for debt-financed investment.

For decades the FDP was the kingmaker of German politics, supporting coalitions led by the CDU/CSU or the SPD. But the next government will likely need three parties to come up with the numbers. This could mean a choice between a right-wing “Jamaica” coalition, with Armin Laschet as chancellor, or a SPD-animate the “traffic lights” group, led by Olaf Scholz. Both would include the FDP and the Greens as junior partners. In 2017, Mr Lindner thwarted Angela Merkel’s attempts to form a Jamaican coalition, declaring that it is better not to govern at all than to govern badly. “The FDP didn’t give us a millimeter, ”says Lisa Paus, an environmentalist deputy involved in the talks.

This year, Mr. Lindner hopes to give Jamaica another chance. He gets along well with Mr. Laschet, with whom he has built a CDUFDP coalition in North Rhine-Westphalia in 2017. But as the SPDas the prospects for having broadened, Mr Lindner opened the door for Mr Scholz by quietly softening his stance on tax matters. His prize for making a government at traffic lights possible would be the Ministry of Finance, a perch from which he would seek to curb the spending plans of the SPD and the Greens (and France’s aspirations to deepen the integration of the euro zone). Many Greens and Social Democrats hate Mr Lindner’s policies and the feelings are mutual. From this mixture of witch-like resentment and mistrust, a government can emerge one way or another.

This article appeared in the Europe section of the print edition under the title “Un trait de jaune”

About Norma Wade

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