“We won’t be elected again like this”: Bayern-FDP continues to look for a course – Bavaria

Martin Hagen can do that: heat things up, wake up a room rhetorically. And here in Ingolstadt, where the Bavarian FDP he leads is holding its two-day party conference, it is sorely needed. An Apo-FDP, the extra-parliamentary opposition in Bavaria, is meeting, with only three percent thrown out of the state parliament. The Liberals were also in the latest BR “Bavaria trend”, things are looking even bleaker for the European elections, where they are already listed under “Other”. And for many people, the member survey about staying in the traffic lights is still in their stomachs. A vote that was close, on a question that was currently being emotionally debated in Bavaria, where the FDP experienced the damage to its image firsthand in October. “Atmosphere, well,” you hear something like that on every corner around the opening on Saturday morning. But Hagen manages to gather steam. That doesn’t mean that everything that concerns the party doesn’t come up in the speeches and in conversations in the foyer.

Hagen had advocated for the traffic lights to continue. And stands by it. The member survey made it clear that there was no majority in favor of leaving. That doesn’t mean that “a majority loves the traffic lights”; but that a “current exit without a concrete reason” would make no sense for either the country or the party. At the same time, as in the population, there is a lot of skepticism in the party against “paternalism by the federal government”. What does that mean? “Green ban fantasies” that people are stubbornly resisting. The FDP is not a divided party, but rather divided “only on a tactical issue,” he says. On the other hand, there is an “overwhelming unity” for liberal beliefs such as performance equity or freedom.

Hagen receives a lot of applause and the hall is now awake. But without a few tips against the Greens there is obviously nothing to be gained here. The FDP leader says: He is not a nostalgic person, but he does like to remember the times when the economics ministers in Bavaria and the federal government were called Martin Zeil and Rainer Brüderle, both FDP. Today we have Hubert Aiwanger and Robert Habeck, “signs of the rampant shortage of skilled workers.”

Aiwanger anyway. The Liberals, says Hagen, “talked up and down” about the economics minister’s poor performance in the state election campaign; no one really wanted to hear that. In the meantime, business associations and even the CSU have come to realize that this man “jumps around at farm demonstrations every day” and is “a disgrace for a high-tech country like Bavaria.” It is no secret that the FDP would not only have liked to remain in the state parliament, but would also have liked to see itself as a CSU junior partner instead of the FW.

“We won’t get re-elected like this.”

There is a lot of need for discussion during the debate, an almost endless list. Albert Duin answers. The former member of the state parliament was a leader of the anti-traffic light front in the member survey and he almost became state chairman in November with a surprise candidacy against Hagen. Duin complains that the Greens have “managed to penetrate ever deeper into the other parties with their ideology,” and everyone has “jumped on the bandwagon.” But it is “crazy” to continue following this “madness”. “The nuclear phase-out is the biggest mistake the Federal Republic has ever made.”

The traffic light thunderstorm is not an outsider position in Ingolstadt, but probably not capable of gaining a majority. Honorary chairwoman Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger promptly countered this; she publicly advocated for traffic lights during the membership decision. “We won’t be elected again if we stand here and tell you how to turn back the clock.” The FDP must remain in government so that it can be “able to act and take action”.

Voices are emerging that finally want peace. Bundestag member Ulrich Lechte wants to “end the liberal depression”. You are part of a successful federal government. Tobias Dutta, regional leader of the Young Liberals, warns: We have to “pull ourselves together” and pull together, “we are not opponents.” And: “Some people think that the Union are our friends. They are not at all, they are the first ones who are happy when we fly out of the Bundestag.” According to Dutta, the Bavarian FDP should be much louder and Prime Minister Markus Söder and Aiwanger should not “let these regressive ideas get away with it.”

Susanne Seehofer calls Aiwanger “forever yesterday”

Susanne Seehofer, a member of the FDP state executive committee, also railed sharply against the deputy prime minister: “Hubert Aiwanger would rather worry about chamois hunting than about tomorrow’s prosperity.” Alluding to Aiwanger’s affair over an anti-Semitic leaflet, there is talk of an “eternal yesterday with his brotherly heart that has stepped into the breach.” Partly for the traffic light, partly against it, sometimes against the Greens, sometimes against the Union – the Bavarian FDP continues to search for a clear direction.

In the current situation, the state association is also concerned with maintaining its structures in the Free State under Apo conditions and with less money. In order not to start from scratch for the “resurrection” – this word is also used in Ingolstadt – for the state elections in 2028. There has recently been a slight dip in membership, but in the long-term trend the party has roughly maintained its level. On January 1st, 2024 there were 8,000 party registers, a year earlier there were 8,500. The traffic light is definitely needed for overwintering in the Apo. The Bavarian FDP wants to showcase what it still has to offer: influence in Berlin. A dual leadership took office in November, and Hagen has been leading the party since then with Katja Hessel, Parliamentary State Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Finance.

The party conference was also focused on Ukraine policy. A motion from the state executive committee criticizes the “restrictive” course of the traffic light and wants to help the attacked country “more and faster” – including with the controversial delivery of Taurus-cruise missiles. Phil Hackemann, Bavaria’s top candidate for the European elections, is also committed to this. He is in seventh place on the FDP list; for a mandate in Brussels, the party would need six to seven percent nationwide. Surveys do not indicate this, but the value would not be completely unimaginable either. Hackemann also wants to make a name for himself as a Munich candidate, as apart from one AfD man, he is the only candidate from the state capital that is prominently featured on a list.

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