• Germany's news in English
 

Westerwelle says he is ready to take on foreign minister role

Published: 22 Feb 2009 12:18 GMT+01:00

But the man who was once the biggest joker in the often staid world of German politics has few laughing now – his electoral strength will likely determine whether Chancellor Angela Merkel can win re-election with her coalition of choice in September’s general election.

Westerwelle’s pro-business Free Democrats, FDP, partners to Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats, CDU, in several post-war governments, are approaching their previously unrealistic-looking target of 18 percent, making them a decisive factor this election year.

Merkel has run Europe’s biggest economy for four years in a ‘grand coalition’ with the Social Democrats, SPD, the conservatives’ traditional rivals.

Now, after 11 years in opposition, Westerwelle appears ready to shake off his at times foppish image and become a kingmaker in the next government, and possibly Germany’s first openly gay foreign minister.

“Of course I made some mistakes when I was young but one grows older and wiser,” the 47-year-old told AFP when asked about his more memorable publicity stunts.

“But the Germans seem to see us positively - otherwise they wouldn’t have given us one of the best results in our history during the last national election.”

Since that 9.8 percent score in 2005, the FDP has seen its support soar to within four points of the SPD, Germany’s oldest political outfit and one of the two traditional ‘people’s parties’ that lead ruling coalitions.

It scored a stunning 16 percent in an election last month in Hesse, one of Germany’s wealthiest states and home to the banking capital Frankfurt.

The FDP’s star has risen largely due to the weakness of the major parties, but it also comes despite the financial crisis, when voters might be expected to be more sceptical about the FDP’s liberal platform of lower taxes and smaller government.

Westerwelle, seen as one of parliament’s most gifted debaters, attributed the his party’s strength to its focus on the middle-class.

“Lawlessness, anything goes, the law of the jungle - that has nothing to do with liberalism,” he said.

“But apparently voters think the middle-class needs to be better represented. Instead, a lot of people have only been looking out for those on top - the so-called locusts.

“Or they have been looking out for those on the bottom on Hartz IV,” the welfare programme for the long-term unemployed.

Westerwelle, a trained attorney, said he was ready to become foreign minister if the FDP joined the government - a traditional role for the junior coalition party.

“The answer is yes, otherwise I would not have become chairman of the FDP,” he said, before making repeated references to respected former FDP foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher.

He said he stood by the ‘basic tenets’ of German post-war foreign policy, but cited nuclear non-proliferation, including calling for the withdrawal of the up to 150 US warheads stationed in Germany since the Cold War, as a priority.

Westerwelle dismissed concerns raised here in the media about whether his homosexuality could present problems if he became Berlin’s chief diplomat.

“I am convinced that today one’s private life is no longer an obstacle. Some other countries may have had a problem with the fact that Angela Merkel became the first female chancellor of Germany. Of course she does not wear a veil on the red carpet when she visits certain Arab states,” he said.

“The American secretary of state (Hillary Clinton) must also hold talks in countries in which women are systematically oppressed.

“The decision as to who we send as a government representative rests solely with us Germans based on our political and moral standards.”

As for his stint on reality-TV and the bright yellow ‘18’ he used to paint on the bottom of his shoes, Westerwelle said Germans appreciated a politician who did not take himself too seriously.

“Maybe the Germans aren’t as uptight as people abroad sometimes think,” he said. “Hans-Dietrich Genscher once told me: ‘Human misery always goes back to politicians who weren’t able laugh at themselves occasionally.’”

AFP/The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Today's headlines
Pro-Kremlin bikers defy bans on Berlin ride
Photo: DPA

Pro-Kremlin bikers defy bans on Berlin ride

Dozens of bikers from pro-Kremlin gang the Night Wolves on Saturday set off on a ride to Berlin ahead of the anniversary of Soviet victory in World War II, despite Poland and Germany barring the riders. READ  

VW patriarch Piëch resigns
Photo: DPA

VW patriarch Piëch resigns

Volkswagen patriarch Ferdinand Piëch, has resigned as head of the German auto giant's supervisory board with immediate effect, the company announced Saturday. READ  

Schumacher Jr lives up to his name
Schumacher Jr is too young to drink any of that champagne. Photo: DPA

Schumacher Jr lives up to his name

Mick Schumacher Jr did his famous father proud on his Formula Four debut on Saturday by claiming a trophy as the best rookie and finishing ninth, despite starting 19th. READ  

Deutsche Bank to sell Postbank
Deutsche Bank acquired Postbank in 2008. Photo: DPA

Deutsche Bank to sell Postbank

Germany's biggest lender Deutsche Bank announced late Friday it was seeking to sell its Postbank subsidiary as part of a revamp to improve profitability. READ  

Far left activists attack immigration office
Photo: DPA

Far left activists attack immigration office

Far-left extremists attacked an immigration office in Leipzig early on Friday morning. It was the second targeted attack on an official building in the city in recent months. READ  

Steinmeier: Armenia wasn't genocide
Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Photo:DPA

Steinmeier: Armenia wasn't genocide

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier insisted on Friday that calling Armenian massacres genocide risks belittling the Holocaust, after President Joachim Gauck broke a taboo by using the word on Thursday. READ  

Schumacher Jr launches Formula race career
Mick Schumacher on test day earlier in April. Photo: DPA

Schumacher Jr launches Formula race career

Michael Schumacher's 16-year-old son starts his Formula Four career this weekend, under the pressure of living up to the famous family name of the seven-time Formula One world champion. READ  

Property of the week
In Pictures: The Local's Property of the Week
Photo: Mr Lodge

In Pictures: The Local's Property of the Week

A highly sought-after location, great connection to public transport, and a very stylish interior – Does that sound good to you? Then you’ll love this week’s property! READ  

Germany's most polluted cities
The sun rises behind a coal-burning power station in Lower Saxony. Photo: DPA

Germany's most polluted cities

The Federal Environment Ministry has named the most polluted places around the country, with Stuttgart claiming the undesirable title of Germany's most polluted city. READ  

Göring's daughter fails in bid to win father's assets
Edda Göring photographed in 1942. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Göring's daughter fails in bid to win father's assets

The Bavarian government rejected on Thursday an attempt by Hermann Göring's daughter to win back her father's assets, which the government seized in 1948. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Gallery
German beer day: take the tour
Features
Off to Norway at 18 km/hour
Shutterstock
Sponsored Article
10 things you didn’t know about Zagreb (and why you should go)
Gallery
The smileys Germans love to text
Sponsored Article
What expat parents should ask before choosing a school
National
Expats face Monday deadline to register to vote for UK election
Politics
A Greek learning politics in Germany
Features
The battle of the "Gates of Berlin"
National
Germany's favourite baby names of 2014
National
Germany's 'very poor' lobbying record
National
VIDEO: Mario Draghi suffers anti-ECB confetti attack
Politics
Merkel's 15 years at the top of German politics
Features
Spice up asparagus season with The Local's serving suggestions
Travel
Lowest of the low: how woman exploited Germanwings crash
Sport
Football and the €30,000 firework
Technology
Why scientists oppose killer robots
National
Germanwings co-pilot 'searched suicide info'
Technology
Electrifying 'Ostalgia'
National
Which city is Germany's worst for drivers?
National
'Cannibal cop' gets 8 years
Can the 'nightmare' of a pilot downing a plane be prevented?
National
LIVE: Co-pilot suspected of crashing plane
Pupils mourn lost classmates
National
Freed after 25 years on death row
National
Cologne Cathedral returns from space
Features
Paddy's Day, Berlin style
Is your workload 'out of control'? You're not alone...
National
Why east Germans are happy to get it on on camera
National
What would you do with a 250-year-old pretzel?
Features
Just why is the German flag Schwarz, Rot, Gold?
Business & Money
Getting German workers and bosses thinking positive
National
Uplifting thoughts to get you through the last week of winter
National
Who wants the Olympics more - Hamburg or Berlin?
National
Last-minute drama of Germany's Eurovision 2015 entry
National
German photographer takes world's top prize
Features
Meet the woman getting Germans to drink more – and better – beer
Gallery
Get inspired for International Women's Day with German heroes
Green party proposes first-ever cannabis legalization plan
Gallery
In pictures: Germany's seven most livable cities
National
Singapore canes Germans for train graffiti
Politics
Surprise! Germans love feeling like they run the EU
Politics
Anger over plan to show women what men earn
Travel
Munich tram fans bicker over new bell
Features
Kafka: puzzling translators 100 years on
Business & Money
France or Germany: Which country really is the best country to work in?
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

7,180
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd