German coalition: Wolfgang Kubicki and the U-turn à la FDP

The leader of the Free Democratic Party (FDP), Christian Lindner (L), and deputy Wolfgang Kubicki (R) speak during a news conference on the failed exploratory talks, at the party headquarters in Berlin, Germany, 20 November 2017. [EPA-EFE/H. JEON]

Wolfgang Kubicki has been in the political business for more than 30 years. Such an experienced man, one could assume, makes no rookie mistakes. If someone like him wants to spread a message, he knows exactly what he is doing. EURACTIV Germany’s media partner “Der Tagesspiegel” reports.

Kubicki once publicly forced the former FDP leader Wolfgang Gerhardt to resign (who then did) and later predicted the implosion of the Westerwelle party (which actually happened).

On Tuesday, the deputy FDP leader had a surprising message. “Kubicki does not rule out restarting the Jamaica talks,” Reuters reported, citing a phrase from a conversation of the Editors Network Germany: “Of course, the Free Democrats will make a new assessment in light of the new developments. After all, we are not dogmatists.”

What looked like an offer to the Christian Democrats and the Greens to enter new negotiations, should the fresh talks between the CDU/CSU and SPD on a grand coalition eventually fail, immediately sent the FDP leadership into a frenzy.

In countless interviews and public appearances, party leader Christian Lindner defended his withdrawal from the Jamaica talks (“It is better not to govern than to govern wrong”)  against the criticism that he was reckless, that he left the negotiation table and plunged the country into a crisis.

Lindner categorically ruled out Jamaica

And not only that: Lindner had categorically ruled out negotiations with the CDU and the Greens, even in case of snap elections. After all, according to the reasoning, the situation with the main negotiators – with whom the FDP could not find a foundation of trust – would not change in the short-term, the same applying to the content the Liberals already rejected.

Now, what has been a “character question” for the Free Democrats since mid-November, is suddenly to be reversed? Swiftly, Lindner denied on Twitter that the FDP would talk about Jamaica again. “In this legislature, this is no longer an issue for anybody”.  “Wolfgang was probably misinterpreted.”

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However, Kubicki (“It is a platitude that there is a new situation after the failure of GroKo [Grand coalition]”) only tried to avoid the impression that the FDP suddenly gave in and that he as deputy is about to stand against the party leader. He stood by the message that the FDP is prepared for all political contingencies.

Tolerating a minority government or snap elections? There is at least one signal Wolfgang Kubicki might have given: If the plans for a grand coalition collapse in the coming weeks and the FDP is again confronted with the question of political responsibility, the party will not shy away from it.

Numerous entrepreneurs and the president of the Employer Association, Ingo Kramer (“Shame!”), have doubted this responsibility in the past few days. Even the party base and FDP supporters view Lindner’s Jamaica-breakup with criticism.