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Beleaguered FDP vows to stay the course

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Beleaguered FDP vows to stay the course
Photo: DPA
16:40 CEST+02:00
Shrugging off recent humiliating opinion poll ratings, Chancellor Angela Merkel's junior coalition partners, the Free Democrats (FDP), vowed Monday they would stick to their present policies and not veer off course following a top-level meeting of party bosses.

“We free Democrats are making a new start, but we are sticking to our themes and to our course,” said party chief Guido Westerwelle following a two-day conclave with senior colleagues in Berlin.

Westerwelle admitted mistakes had been made, but insisted he would remain party leader, foreign minister and vice-chancellor.

After winning nearly 15 percent of the vote less than a year ago in the general election, the pro-business FDP's approval rating has since dropped to 5 percent amid constant bickering with coalition partners the Christian Democrats (CDU) and in particular the CDU's Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU).

It was forced to put on hold indefinitely the centrepiece of its programme, tax cuts and simplification of the income tax scales, after the government went massively into debt to fund economic stimulus and bailout packages.

Westerwelle's personal popularity is also at a record low. Sources who took part in the meeting said there were no demands for Westerwelle, 48, to step down, though he would be relieved of certain functions within the party leadership.

“We were not a one-theme party, we were not a one-man party and we will not become so,'' Westerwelle said.

He acknowledged there had “too often been quarrelling” with coalition colleagues.

“What has to change are the form and style of the debates,” he said.

Voters had to see that the government had a duty to pursue a “common goal.”

“We want to win new trust and new credibility.”

It was necessary to get through a “difficult phase” to reach new successes, he added.

On tax policy, Westerwelle said the party would push for a quick decision on scrapping exemptions to VAT and the simplification of tax laws. A commission would be set up to make proposals by autumn and would consider raising the threshold on the top tax rate and the “wealth tax” of 3 percent on incomes above €250,000 a year.

“Nothing is off limits,” Westerwelle said.

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