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Party Mergers (July 6, 1990)

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The FDP faces a problem that is totally different from those of the other parties. For the first time in its history, it is becoming – at least temporarily – a member party. Its 68,000 members will be joined by about 140,000 from the GDR, primarily from the former block parties LDPD and NDPD. While the SPD muses about “minority protection” for its GDR sister party at a unification party congress, the FDP has to take the opposite approach. Here, too, firm frontlines have formed behind the scenes within the ranks of prominent Western party members; some West-Liberals* apparently believe that they can use programmatic content from the numerically significant GDR party to shift the balance within the West-FDP. This is something that some East-Liberals have also realized by now, and thus their self-confidence is growing as well. To lead a party of more than 200,000 members, [Otto] Graf Lambsdorff, who wants to act as party chair after the merger, will need an organizational structure that is totally different from the one used up to this point to lead a party of notables.

The programmatic basis of the Liberals in the GDR is vague, however. Even after the departure of Minister of Justice [Kurt] Wünsche (who was seen as an unwelcome “poster boy,” at least by the legal policy wing of the FDP, which tends toward a socially liberal orientation) some of what is currently happening in the GDR (for example, the “clean slate” action) must strike the West-Liberals as a heavy burden for a state under the rule of law [Rechtsstaat] – quite apart from the fact that the NDPD (National Democratic Party of Germany), which has joined up with the League of Free Democrats [Bund Freier Demokraten], originally served in the political consolidation and neutralization of former supporters of National Socialism. Of course, decades have passed since then, but the fact still remains.

Unlike the CDU and the SPD, the FDP is familiar with its sister the LDP (but not with the NDPD) from many years of contact. It therefore knows that – similar to the CDU – it must prepare itself for a strengthening of the business wing. Incidentally, that is likely to limit its coalition options for the foreseeable future; the “stock of shared interests” with the SPD is small.

The parties in the Federal Republic are pushing for unification. In the process, they will have to get ready for internal changes. And it is still difficult to gauge what kind of change in the political landscape is heading their way from the outside: from the PDS. There is, for one, the situation in the GDR. Ever since it dropped the name SED, the party (i.e., the PDS) has lost about two million members. Gregory Gysi puts its current membership at 350,000. Where are the two million going? Certainly, a large part may be fed up with politics (in the sense of party membership). But the decision by the SPD party congress proves that under certain conditions other parties are seeing the PDS as a quarry. Because even former unity socialists are likely to take their cues from electoral success, the CDU will also have to integrate former SED/PDS members.

Moreover, the PDS for its part is looking for “sisters” in the Federal Republic. The party chairman travels ceaselessly from one discussion event to another. As of now, he still has plenty of resources. A zealous Neues Deutschland** asks Green politicians time and again about the “chances of leftist alternatives in Germany.” The “goal”: in the Federal Republic there is “room for a leftist socialist party.” Here, then, is where the PDS wants to look for the “other leftist forces.”

That sounds presumptuous. But the important thing is whether the SPD will be forced to react programmatically in order to keep the competitor on the left wing at arm’s length. That would expand the latitude for the parties of Bonn’s governing coalition [CDU and FDP] in a situation when they must deal with the consequences of their mergers. Still: the economic tasks that have been created by German unity, it may be presumed, will entice the large parties as always to scramble for the political center.

* The members of the Free Democratic Party (in the former West Germany and the unified Germany) are also referred to as Liberals; the FDP belongs to the category of liberal party as it promotes individual freedom and the market economy – eds.
** Neues Deutschland was the official party newspaper of the SED. After the demise of the SED regime, it has maintained a socialist outlook and support for the PDS (now the Left Party) – eds.

Source: Ludwig Dohmen, “Neues Blut für alte Parteien” [“Fresh Blood for Old Parties”], Rheinischer Merkur, July 6, 1990.

Translation: Thomas Dunlap

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