Free Democrats Choose Westerwelle’s Replacement

Spiegel, April 5, 2011

Germany’s Free Democrats on Tuesday anointed Philipp Rösler, the Vietnamese-born health minister, as their new leader to replace Guido Westerwelle, who resigned on Sunday following regional election defeats that have plunged the party into crisis and shaken Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right coalition.

The FDP’s executive board agreed that Rösler, 38, should stand for the chairmanship at a party conference in May. He is expected to remain health minister, a job in which he has had only modest success since taking it on as the youngest minister in Merkel’s cabinet in 2009.

Rösler was born in a southern Vietnamese village in 1973 during the war, and was adopted by a family in Germany at the age of nine months. He joined the pro-business FDP while he was still a teenager in 1992. He studied medicine in Hanover and Hamburg before becoming a medical doctor in 2002.

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Rösler’s own record as health minister hasn’t been exactly impressive either. He failed to push through his ambitious plans for reforming German healthcare which were whittled down by Seehofer and by Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, who remarked sarcastically that the reform would work fine if the top tax rate were hiked to 73 percent.

“Why did he have to say such an unfriendly thing?” Rösler told an aide at the time, referring to Schäuble’s comment. He had allowed himself to be intimidated–that doesn’t bode well for his ability to cope with the challenges ahead. The notoriously difficult health portfolio could sap Rösler’s authority as party leader.

The FDP’s leadership would have preferred him to become economy minister, a less demanding and more high-profile portfolio, but the present incumbent, Rainer Brüderle, likewise of the FDP, refused to budge.

Meteoric Career

Rösler may be a high-flier, but he hasn’t been one to grasp for power. When he was offered the job as health minister in 2009, he was initially reluctant to take it because he wanted to help take care of his newborn twin daughters. He still hasn’t properly moved to Berlin and commutes to and from his home in Hanover. When in the capital, he sleeps in a room at the back of his ministry.

Rösler has repeatedly said he wants to quit politics when he turns 45. “I don’t want to be consumed by politics. One has to ride the tiger rather than let him eat you,” he said.

Those aren’t the words of someone obsessed with advancement. But his career has nevertheless been meteoric. He was 27 years old when he became the FDP’s general secretary for the state of Lower Saxony in 2000. He joined the FDP’s national executive in 2005 and became FDP leader in the state in 2006. In early 2009, he was appointed Lower Saxony’s economics minister and deputy governor.

Rösler says he didn’t suffer any discrimination as a result of his different background as he was growing up. But people who know him say his awareness that he was different may have rendered him reticent and eager to please. Friends say that may help explain why he has always been seen as extremely polite and friendly.

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Rösler

Philipp Rösler.

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  • Tim in Indiana

    Those aren’t the words of someone obsessed with advancement. But his career has nevertheless been meteoric.

    Could this be due to Germany’s own version of “affirmative action?”

    Rösler says he didn’t suffer any discrimination as a result of his different background as he was growing up. But people who know him say his awareness that he was different may have rendered him reticent and eager to please.

    Funny, in the US that same phenomenon makes blacks “bitter” and full of “rage.”

  • voter

    “Friends say that may help explain why he has always been seen as extremely polite and friendly.”

    Well, that’s a very common Asian trait too. Could it be just a case of ethnic traits (genetics) manifesting themselves?

    Who says stereotypes mean nothing?

  • elitist

    It is interesting that Rösler claims never to have experienced racism in Germany, because the conventional wisdom is that Germans are fascists and that is why the Muslim minority has been “prevented” from integrating.

    If someone looks like him can come this far in Germany without ever experiencing racism, then there probably isn’t much around to experience.

    As in the United States, “white racism” is the de facto explanation for the miserable failure of certain racial and ethnic groups.

  • german

    Don’t worry,

    now that the homosexual Westerwelle is gone, the Asian Rössler can not save the “Party of Freedom” anymore. His party which once stood for very American values (small taxes, small government influence, everybody is responsible for his own) now stands for nothing after they were for the EU, which is more socialistic than most Americans can imagine.

  • German Reader

    It is interesting to note that the two “Freedom” parties in Germany and Austria had been remarkably similar to each other up to about the seventies. Both attempted to further the honorable cause of classic liberalism (Free speech uber alles, low taxes, no foreign adventures).

    Since then the Austrian variety (FPO) has evolved into a defender of the rights of indigenous Austrians and had some notable successes in that direction. The German party (FDP) went post ’68 mainstream in every respect. So much so that it has degenerated into a mutual aid society for sodomists, crooked lawyers and now: Boat people.

    Having now an ethnic vice-chancelor makes me feel distinctly colonized. Ironically, I previously never gave much thought to the plight of native Americans who lost control of their own continent. I now begin to realize how they feel.

  • Anonymous

    A foreign ethny who wants to retire before he’s fifty because he’s been brought up with so much ‘privilege’ that he has no concept of having to work his behind off to get where he is now, solely because of his skin color.

    Germans should be enraged at his arrogance and startled by his innocence.

    No one so effeminate as to think that raising his kids is more important than dedicating his life to service should be working to throw away their hard earned tax dollars in any area of government.