The term “liberal” means something very different in continental Europe. While on social issues they are largely similar to the American lefties who co-opted the term, on economic matters, northern European liberals are far more serious about trying to reduce government spending (even more so than their supposedly right-wing political neighbors, traditionally Christian Democrats).
In Germany, the Free Democratic Party spending much of the post-World-War-II period alternating between the C-Dems and the Social Democrats as their minor coalition partner. However, in the late 1990s, they went into opposition against the SDP-Green government of the time, and found their footing as genuine limited-government tax-cutters. In 2009, they returned to power as the smaller piece of Angela Merkel’s C-Dem government – and things went downhill from there.
In part because the FDP was unable to convince Merkel to push serious reductions in government, in part because they twisted themselves in knots over Europe, and in part simply because a genuine free-market party (to which the FDP was the closest of any party) will always have trouble in corporatist-friendly Germany, the FDP has hit the wall, and in many states will only survive until the next election.
So it was a surprise to many when the FDP chose principle over convenience in North-Rhine-Westphalia, voted down the SDP-Green government’s budget, and decided to risk getting wiped out in the May election.
If this is the beginning of the end for the FDP, I’ll miss them. Small-government parties don’t have it easy in Europe (or anywhere else for that matter), and while the Free Dems were woeful on Europe, well, so is every other party in Germany.
Cross-posted to Virginia Virtucon