No one embodies the division of the FDP more than its Secretary General: Volker Wissing attacks the Corona measures, but executes them himself. If his strategy fails, the party is in danger of collapsing.

A vaccine against the coronavirus has been found in Germany – and that shows exactly what is going wrong in Germany, says Volker Wissing. Therefore, on the morning of November 19, he appeared at the lectern of the German Bundestag with a narrow tie and a straight look. He talks about genetic engineering, which also made Biontech’s corona vaccine possible, the success should have “shown everyone the potential of this technology.” He adds: “It is especially fatal when research and science are subjected to the political zeitgeist.” This is far too often the case.

Then Wissing gets the political all-round blow: the demographic change, the management of the climate crisis, the bad conditions for venture capital in the Federal Republic – all this must change quickly.

Volker Wissing is Secretary General of the federal FDP, but as Minister of State for Economic Affairs of Rhineland-Palatinate actually has his official seat in distant Mainz. Deepest province from a Berlin perspective. However, since the Biontech vaccine was developed there on the Rhine, his party’s parliamentary group invited him to speak in the Berlin plenary for a change.

Volker Wissing in the German Bundestag: “It is especially fatal if research and science are subjected to the political zeitgeist.” (Source: Image Images)

And involuntarily, this appearance seems to him a desirous future scenario: the 50-year-old would rather stand in front of the lectern in the Bundestag much more often and would rather not attack the laws of the government, but rather make them himself. As part of the next cabinet, Wissing is now the top candidate in Rhineland-Palatinate for the federal election. But until then it is still a long way.

He should push the liberals back to ten percent

While the FDP is an outspoken opposition party at the federal level in the corona pandemic, the Liberals are also in the state governments of Rhineland-Palatinate, North Rhine-Westphalia and Schleswig-Holstein. In Kiel, the party even supplies the Minister of Health. In this dichotomy between the criticism of the federal government and the parallel government work in state parliaments in addressing the epidemic, all FDP officials find themselves. But this balancing act doesn’t require as much acrobatics as Volker Wissing.

Politically, he hands out heavily. And because he sometimes shoots sharply against the Corona measures, for which he himself is responsible as Deputy Prime Minister, he sometimes seems like his own target. The most prominent cardboard comrade of the FDP. Party leader Lindner has been damaged by several missteps, leaving the hopes of many liberals now on the secretary general. He should push the party back towards ten percent rather than five percent, where the journey currently seems to be going. Anyone who guides Volker Wissing for a longer period of time learns a lot about the current dilemma of the liberals, the search for their core content and their hurt pride in the CDU.

You might think a Bundeswehr officer intervened

Volker Wissing, however, is personally perceived as less offended than aggressive. For example, at the appointment for the interview, three hours after Wissing’s speech, at the time on 19 November in the Bundestag. The meeting point is his office at the FDP party headquarters in Berlin. Plastic armchairs, a simple conference table, behind the desk is a picture on the floor. Wissing has not been in office for long, Lindner only installed him as Secretary General in September and fired his confidant Linda Teuteberg for this. The party leader decided that the team should be reorganized before the general election. Volker Wissing could be Christian Lindner’s last line-up.

When Volker Wissing enters a room, you might think that an official from the Bundeswehr is entering: a tightly drawn parting, a goose step, a uniform-like suit. Here in Berlin, Volker Wissing is in full attack mode, no government offices are safe from him. He opens a Coke and goes straight to the Chancellor in the beginning: “ We need a strategy to fight the pandemic: we could protect groups that are at particular risk for a long time, for example people who have been affected by their age or previous illnesses. at risk of being affected. the serious course of a Covid infection is very long. “

It is the time that Angela Merkel is still negotiating with the prime minister about a new lockdown in Germany. Wissing believes that the federal government is acting “very administratively” and that the decisions are “not very transparent”. And now he wants to prove it.

“No one would have gotten away for such a reason”

Wissing takes a deep breath and says, “At 9.55pm on Sunday, I get a newspaper complaining about the issue of proportionality.” He speaks about the Federal Chancellery’s first draft resolution for tougher corona measures in Germany, and also explains a legal principle: “Whether a measure is proportionate is essentially based on the justification of the measure leading to an infringement of fundamental rights.”

He takes out his iPhone and hastily taps the screen. Wissing opens the motion for a resolution, he has already saved it, it works in no time. Then he rattles out the lines of Angela Merkel’s design: “From all the above considerations it follows that it is ethically, medically, politically and legally necessary, appropriate and proportional. To stabilize the number of new infections below 50 new infections per week.”

Wissing lifts his eyes from the iPhone, sits up in the plastic armchair and raises his eyebrows in amazement, his gaze revealing the questions: No real reason for such dramatic measures? Just a number as an argument? Well, I checked legal exams once – no one would have passed for such a reason. I wonder: who actually writes something like that down? ‘ After all, there would be no author under the newspaper. And: “We get decisions, but no explanation. And as a member of a liberal party I have to say: well! That will be fine.”

Volker Wissing in the federal press conference: He is used to his party operating on the brink of political insignificance. (Source: Image Images)Volker Wissing in the federal press conference: He is used to his party operating on the brink of political insignificance. (Source: Image Images)

In the world of Volker Wissing it is all very simple: the Chancellor is a weak, powerless figure who never really explains her rules to the people and the cabinet is a bunch of opportunists, in which many members are far left despite the party book of the Union stand.

But what would the FDP actually do differently? Wissing gives a proven answer. They have reached agreement on the line of the party, the rest. He says: “We’ve long wanted to protect vulnerable groups more strongly, provide them with FFP2 masks more quickly. We want to schedule special shopping times for them and provide taxi vouchers so they can get from A to B safely. We also want to offer faster tests to people. to offer security and to make the infection process more transparent. ”If you listen to Wissing for a long time, you get the image of a man who would like to say: we all knew this beforehand.

He is used to the party that operates on the brink of insignificance

Volker Wissing knew early on what he wanted himself: he grew up in Rhineland-Palatinate, helped his parents winegrowing as a child and was trained as a church musician at the same time as school. But at this time he was mainly interested in politics. Heiner Geißler and Hanna-Renate Laurin performed at his school, the public secondary school in Bad Bergzabern. They gave speeches, discussed with students, Wissing was fascinated. After that he studied law, but politics continued to appeal to him.

For this purpose, Wissing chose the FDP of all people. And he is used to his party operating on the brink of political insignificance. In 1998, when the FDP threatened to be expelled from the Bundestag, Wissing went to a party election gallery at the age of 28 and declared that the liberals should not fail at the five percent threshold. Can he support the election campaign? He could, joined the party the same year and the FDP just came back into parliament. With 6.2 percent.

Wissing completed his law studies, worked as a prosecutor and judge, everything went very quickly in his political career: in 2001 he became district chairman in Landau an der Südliche Weinstrasse and moved to the Bundestag in January 2004. Wissing then remained a member of the Bundestag until the five percent threshold failed in 2013, while acting as deputy chairman of the parliamentary group.

“It’s easier to say everyone wears a mask”

Wissing learned the business of the liberal politician from the ground up. But liberalism is not very popular right now. If you ask around at the FDP, it has been stated for months that the Corona crisis is actually an enormous opportunity for the party. When, if not now, is the issue of freedom so important? Still, in the polls, the party continues to stick to the six percent like a fly on the window. A member of the presidency says, “The problem is that the Germans are very submissive after all. It’s hard being a liberal.” Wissing puts it this way: “It’s not always easy to convey freedom. It’s much easier to say, everyone wears a mask, we close – people associate it with state-level determination.”

To ensure that the party follows a uniform course in the pandemic, Volker Wissing, party leader Christian Lindner and party leader Marco Buschmann call each other every morning. The three men discuss the situation of the liberals with their staff. Which topics should be recorded, whether the newspapers praise them or write them down, which messages are posted. They even agree on individual formulations so that everyone says the same thing in interviews.

This unity is important, and Wissing strongly believes in it. Because the party has often been swinging lately: the short-lived Prime Minister of Thuringia, FDP man Thomas Kemmerich, who took office with the votes of the AfD, shook the liberals to their foundations. Suddenly the much-cited dam breach was there, the FDP was ashamed as the stirrup holder of the Thuringian AfD right winger Björn Höcke. Party Vice Chairman Wolfgang Kubicki has increasingly criticized Christian Lindner’s course, which is one of the reasons why the highest levels of leadership have so high hopes for Volker Wissing. It must bring harmony, it must provide peace.

“Don’t thwart decisions at national political level”

In Mainz it works quite well with the rest. There, Wissing, together with SPD Prime Minister Malu Dreyer, heads a virtually silent state government of Rhineland-Palatinate.

And there the other side of Volker Wissing is revealed: a few weeks after the appointment in his office in Berlin, he meets Wissing in Mainz in early December. First of all, it is about his political balancing act. How does he support these measures there, about which he often complains in Berlin? He says, “Democracy requires a willingness to respect majority decisions. Our government responsibility in Rhineland-Palatinate is to make the best possible policy for Rhineland-Palatinate and not to thwart decisions at the federal level.”

The boss and her deputy: Malu Dreyer (SPD), Prime Minister of Rhineland-Palatinate and Volker Wissing, Minister of Economy of Rhineland-Palatinate (FDP). (Source: Image Images)The boss and her deputy: Malu Dreyer (SPD), Prime Minister of Rhineland-Palatinate and Volker Wissing, Minister of Economy of Rhineland-Palatinate (FDP). (Source: Image Images)

How much he secretly opposes in government is shown by an anecdote. Wissing is now talking about his phone call with the prime minister. On Saturday he called her for more than an hour. Malu Dreyer wanted to find out in which positions Volker Wissing would tighten the rules and where not.

Talking about New Year’s Eve, Dreyer suggested that people should be allowed to light their fireworks on private property. Wissing was against it. The compromise: fireworks are prohibited in public places and in crowds, but allowed in front of your own home. Wissing was mainly concerned with the children, who are already annoyed by Corona, he did not want to spoil their fun. And he did not want to favor those who already have great wealth. Ironically, the FDP under Wissing represents the interests of the less wealthy in Germany.

The FDP’s winding journey with the CDU

After his appointment as Secretary-General, the “Spiegel” wrote about him: “Lindner’s Ampelmann”. Wissing was now considered the official who could open the FDP to a different type of government, in Mainz he rules in a traffic light coalition with the SPD and the Greens. The FDP could become more social democratic under him and less inclined to the Union. He says: “The overlap between the Union and the FDP can be great – depending on how the Union is oriented. The original relationship of trust with the FDP was little cultivated by the Union.”

What Wissing means by that: The FDP has had a twisty journey with the CDU. And finally the curve went down steeply. In the latest black and yellow coalition, the Chancellor paid little attention to her junior partner. Merkel viewed her temporary vice-chancellor, FDP politician Philipp Rösler, as a kind of schoolboy, someone who didn’t understand political matters.

Merkel coldly penetrated its contents without allowing open conflict in the coalition – and the FDP was shortly afterwards expelled from the Bundestag. Smothered in a hug. Wissing does not want to make such a mistake. The current rejection of the CDU can be found in the break that took place in 2012 and 2013. Wissing would love to rejoin the government at the federal level. But he doesn’t want to become a second Philipp Rösler.

The FDP as counterweight on the sailing ship Germany

His office in Mainz now deals with the DNA of the FDP. It is not important to Volker Wissing that in the foreseeable future the liberals are unlikely to supply the chancellor and, after Thomas Kemmerich, also not prime minister. He wants to position his party in Germany as a corrective: a kind of counterbalance that can be moved on the sailing ship Germany to where a political list needs to be balanced. In this way, the ideas of the CDU and the Greens, which he says are all too crazy, should simply be avoided.

One of those ideas comes to Wissing right away, it concerns the demand from the CDU presidents to introduce a compulsory social year in Germany for people 18 years and older. Wissing slips into the role of CDU leader and imitates Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer. He turns a little away from the interlocutor, clenches a fist slightly and begins with an artificial pathos in his voice: “We now need mandatory service for every German. Where do we get there when the young people decide for themselves at the age of 18? what do they want to do? So we as a state must tell them how to behave for at least a year! “

He is getting more serious, Volker Wissing is now Volker Wissing again, and looks at you: “The carelessness with which young people have to intervene here annoys me.” It is not the young people who must justify their own way of life, but the state must explain why this intervention is necessary.

Perhaps the last of its kind

He thinks: “In Germany there is a tendency for politics to lean towards the collective. Whether the SPD, CDU or the Greens – they all have in common that they want to dictate to the citizens how to live.” Only the FDP would oppose this. In these moments, Wissing seems completely convinced, an original liberal who still believes in his principles – perhaps the last of his kind. The coming years will show whether that is true.

The year 2021 will certainly not be an easy year for Volker Wissing and the FDP. In Rhineland-Palatinate they will probably not be the strongest force behind the SPD again, in Thuringia it would be a miracle if the party rejoins the state parliament. That’s why everyone in the Liberals is now watching the election of the new CDU chief in mid-January. Should it actually be Friedrich Merz, with his business-friendly stances and his conservative pathos, things are looking bad for the FDP, some whisper in the federal executive committee. The FDP’s political space to succeed alongside a CDU leader Friedrich Merz would be about the size of a matchbox. And what does the general secretary of the party say? Volker Wissing only explains: he hopes for Armin Laschet.

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