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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 11 September, 2002, 11:03 GMT 12:03 UK
Profile: Guido Westerwelle
Guido Westerwelle addressing FDP conference on 8th September 2002
Westerwelle wants 18% for the FDP this year
Forty-year-old Guido Westerwelle is the youngest leader in the history of Germany's liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP).

He is a life-long political activist who has consistently stressed the need to improve the FDP's appeal to the young.
Westerwelle's rise
1961: Born in Bad Honnef, near Bonn
1980: Joined FDP
1983-88: Leader of Young Liberals
1994-2001: FDP general secretary
2001: Elected FDP chairman
May 2002: Named FDP's first chancellor candidate

From appearing on German TV's "Big Brother" show to touring the country in his "Guidomobil" - a converted mobile home - during the 2002 election campaign, he has not been shy of gestures that some opponents decry as trivialising politics.

Mr Westerwelle joined the FDP in 1980 as an 18-year-old school-leaver and soon acquired a reputation as a strategist keen to change the liberals' image as a tax-cutting party for the better-off.

As a law student in Bonn, he was a founder member of the Young Liberals (Julis) and became their leader in 1983.

The Julis replaced the left-leaning Young Democrats (Judos) as the party's youth wing after the FDP switched its support from the SPD to the conservative CDU/CSU, bringing down Helmut Schmidt and ushering in the era of Helmut Kohl.

He held the position for five years and was credited with transforming the Julis from what he himself described as "innocent accomplices" in the switch to a critical youth organisation.

In a 1988 newspaper interview, he singled out the FDP's rejection of an amnesty for tax offenders and its diminished enthusiasm for nuclear power as fruits of the youth wing's labours.

Ambitions

On becoming the FDP's general secretary in 1994, Mr Westerwelle immediately sought to change the party's image, using his acceptance speech to call for "a party of the hard-working - that's something different from a party of the better-off".

He assumed the top party job, the chairmanship, in May 2001.

Neither Gerhard Schroeder nor Edmund Stoiber can lead Germany out of its crisis

FDP 2002 manifesto

But Mr Westerwelle's ambitions go beyond leadership of his own party.

Besides being the FDP's youngest leader, he also broke with tradition in 2002 by becoming post-war Germany's youngest candidate for chancellor.

In the past, the FDP has tacitly acknowledged its minor-party status by not naming its own candidate but declaring its support for one of the two big parties, but Mr Westerwelle has been keen to raise its - and his - profile by avoiding any pre-election commitment.

"The CDU/CSU have lost their way in opposition, and the SPD has done so in government," the party's election website says.

Going it alone

"Neither Gerhard Schroeder nor Edmund Stoiber can lead Germany out of its crisis."

Reluctance to pledge blind loyalty to either of the big two is a theme that Mr Westerwelle has pursued for some time.


Every ship with sail or steam needs one man to guide its team - and that's me!

Accepting the FDP leadership
Even in 1998, when the FDP went into the election as the CDU/CSU's declared coalition partner, he caused a stir by publicly calling on Helmut Kohl to "hand over the baton in the foreseeable future" to Wolfgang Schaeuble if the coalition were returned to power.

But they lost, and Mr Westerwelle lost no time in loosening ties to the CDU/CSU by declaring that the FDP would not pursue a "fundamental blockade" of Gerhard Schroeder's administration but offer "constructive opposition".

Evidence came the following year when Mr Westerwelle, as the party's home affairs spokesman in parliament, was instrumental in swinging the FDP behind a government bill to make German citizenship available to children born in Germany of non-German parents.

He followed this up in 2000, declaring that the possibility of a future national coalition with the SPD was "no taboo" after the FDP under Juergen Moellemann did unexpectedly well in regional elections in North Rhine-Westphalia but was left out of the SPD-Green administration in Germany's most populous state.

Controversy

But relations with the ambitious Mr Moellemann have not always been smooth.

FDP Deputy Chairman Juergen Moellemann
Westerwelle's deputy has caused some problems
Mr Westerwelle attracted accusations of indecision - and worse - in May 2002 when Mr Moellemann said Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was more influential in stirring up hatred of Jews than any German anti-Semite and accused the vice-president of Germany's Central Council of Jews, Michel Friedman, of "an intolerant and hate-mongering style" that had the same effect.

Media reports saw Mr Westerwelle as hesitant and weak for being slow in forcing his deputy to apologise and to expel a regional party member who had sparked the controversy by accusing Israel of using Nazi methods against the Palestinians.

The media - and some party members - also suspected Mr Westerwelle of testing the water to see how Mr Moellemann's comments affected the FDP's opinion-poll ratings before deciding which way to jump.

But the scandal appears not to have damaged the party's election chances, and Mr Westerwelle goes into the 2002 election with a strong chance of restoring the FDP to its traditional role as kingmaker between the two big parties.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

Gerhard Schroeder

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