• 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
Wolf spotted in North Rhine-Westphalia
File photo: DPA

Wolf spotted in North Rhine-Westphalia

Camera traps have spotted a wolf for the second time in a month in North Rhine-Westphalia, the state environment ministry reported on Friday. READ  

German ranchers murdered in Paraguay
Paraguayan police on patrol in an area known to contain EPP rebels. File photo: DPA

German ranchers murdered in Paraguay

The Foreign Ministry in Berlin confirmed that two Germans living in Paraguay were kidnapped and killed earlier this week. READ  

AfD braces for busy conference weekend
"Vote AfD!" reads the flyover message. Photo: DPA

AfD braces for busy conference weekend

As leaders of the Germany's anti-Euro upstart party Alternative for Germany (AfD) prepare for its party conference this weekend, the potential for chaos is rising. READ  

Sudden dose of winter causes traffic chaos
Snow in Oberharz. Photo: DPA

Sudden dose of winter causes traffic chaos

UPDATE: Two people were rescued from avalanches as a blast of winter has taken Germany by surprise, while snow and ice accounted for several traffic accidents across the country on Friday. READ  

BND collects 220 million phone records a day
Photo: DPA

BND collects 220 million phone records a day

Germany's foreign intelligence agency, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) collects 220 million pieces of information about foreign phone calls and SMS every day, Zeit Online reported on Friday. READ  

U-turn on minimum wage for foreign drivers
Photo: DPA

U-turn on minimum wage for foreign drivers

Germany temporarily hit the brakes Friday on applying its new minimum wage to foreign truck drivers transiting the country in a move welcomed by Poland, which vigorously opposed the system. READ  

Crises make Germany EU foreign policy leader
Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Photo: DPA

Crises make Germany EU foreign policy leader

Foreign policy think-tank the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) gave Germany top marks in its annual check-up of EU member states released on Thursday. READ  

Prost! Beer sales hop up for first gain in 8 years
Photo: DPA

Prost! Beer sales hop up for first gain in 8 years

New figures released Friday by federal statistics office Destatis are numbers breweries can drink to, as German beer consumption saw its first year-on-year rise since 2006. READ  

Germany has thousands of uni spots open
Photo: DPA

Germany has thousands of uni spots open

New research published by Spiegel on Friday shows that there are thousands of university placesa unoccupied across the country, while certain hot spots cope with too much demand. READ  

Borussia coach admits to 'downward spiral'
Borussia Dortmund coach Jürgen Klopp at a press conference. Photo: DPA

Borussia coach admits to 'downward spiral'

Borussia Dortmund coach Jürgen Klopp admits feeling the pressure as his side resume their fight to stay in Germany's top flight on Saturday at fellow Champions League side Bayer Leverkusen. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Business & Money
FATCA: 'The age of financial privacy is over'
Gallery
The best regional foods TTIP opponents want to protect
Photo: DPA
Features
The rise and spread of Pegida
Photo: Shutterstock
Culture
This cosplayer did not think his plan through
National
Europe in statistics - from Spain to Sweden
Photo: DPA
Politics
The Local's report from Pegida's largest ever demonstration.
Sponsored Article
Top-notch tech boosts bilingual schools
National
Six stories that will rock Germany this year
Photo: DPA
National
Terror alert at a new high. Should you be worried?
Dresden skyline and river by night. Photo: DPA
Politics
What does Dresden have against Muslims?
Photo: DPA
National
What were your favourite news stories of 2014?
Gallery
Top 12 German idioms
National
Why has The Local got a new logo?
Photo: DPA
National
This German was abducted and tortured by the CIA
Culture
10 top tips for partying in Germany
Photo: DPA
Technology
What does the Chancellor see as the future of the internet?
Photo: DPA
Berlin
The Local's series on 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
JobTalk: All you need to know about working in Germany
National
Share news tips with The Local Germany
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

3,969
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd