Christian Dürr: Between profiling and pragmatism: The difficult dual role of FDP faction leader Dürr
Berlin Two four-metre-long silver penguins float above Christian Dürr’s head as elegant balloons. The FDP faction leader pulls out his mobile phone and takes pictures. “They all want to take pictures,” says Olaf Brandes. He is managing director of the Ideas Expo, a trade fair in Hanover, where 280 exhibitors spend nine days inspiring young people for technology and natural sciences and thus finding skilled workers for the future.
Brandes leads the FDP parliamentary group leader through the three exhibition halls with 720 hands-on exhibits. The two flying penguins belong to the stand of the employers’ association Niedersachsen-Metall, which wants to arouse curiosity about bionics, nature’s think tank, so to speak. In the case of the 45-year-old politician, it seems to be working. He is fascinated by the cone-shaped penguin balloons, while Brandes wants to guide him to the next station. The schedule is tight.
For Dürr, the visit to the trade fair the week before last is a change from everyday coalition life in Berlin. As parliamentary group leader, he has to keep the traffic light alliance going with his SPD colleague Rolf Mützenich and with Katharina Dröge and Britta Haßelmann from the Greens. Chancellor and minister must be able to rely on the government factions, especially in times of crisis. “We’re prepared for storms,” says Dürr.
However, the FDP parliamentary group leader is in a difficult dual role: in addition to managing the coalition as smoothly as possible, he is expected to make the liberal voice heard in the traffic light alliance. In principle, this tightrope walk applies to parliamentary group leaders, but the pressure is even greater on the Liberals due to weak poll numbers.
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“Just do it,” is written in large letters on a poster next to Dürr. It is the motto of the Ideas Expo in Hanover. “That might go well with the FDP,” says Managing Director Brandes. In any case, there are a striking number of liberal politicians among the visitors. Federal Education Minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger was there before Dürr. And together with Dürr, members of the FDP parliamentary group from the Lower Saxony state parliament will be parading through the fair.
Dürr knows the state parliamentarians very well. Between 2009 and 2017 he was chairman of the FDP deputies in Hanover. “The state parliament was excellent preparation,” he says in retrospect. In the early years, Lower Saxony was governed by a black and yellow coalition. While things were going well there, the Union and the FDP fell out in Berlin, and the Liberals were finally kicked out of the Bundestag in 2013.
It is the great trauma of the FDP. And one reason why the falling poll numbers in the parliamentary group and party are causing nervousness. In North Rhine-Westphalia and Schleswig-Holstein, the Liberals were recently kicked out of government. In October, the FDP has to pass the state elections in Lower Saxony, Dürr’s homeland.
A faction leader as “company founder”
Dürr has been the parliamentary group leader in the Bundestag for a good eight months now. He describes the early days as “founding a company”. “I had to put together a new parliamentary group executive in a week and a half,” he says. Such personnel decisions always bring with them disappointments who have come away empty-handed. Nevertheless, Dürr was elected parliamentary leader with 94 percent.
“For an only child, I’m a good team player,” Dürr once said of himself. He’s not the blustering type of politician, but tends to be unpretentious. He lives with his wife and two children in Ganderkesee, a small community in Lower Saxony near Delmenhorst, where he also grew up.
There is little criticism of him, and Dürr is most likely to be accused of only doing what Lindner wants. What is correct: He owes his job as parliamentary group leader to his relationship of trust with party leader Christian Lindner.
Dürr sees no reason for conflicts between the liberal faction and the FDP government members. The public would hardly understand this, especially since there is enough friction between the SPD, the Greens and the FDP. And this is where the parliamentary group leader gets involved: Whether it’s extending the life of nuclear power plants, preventing a speed limit or defending the debt brake – Dürr presents the liberal positions in a pointed manner.
There is a professional relationship between the leaders of the coalition parties. On the way back from Hanover to Berlin, Dürr’s cell phone kept ringing. It’s the last week of meetings before the summer break, and Dürr is making sure everything goes smoothly with the votes. He is also considered reliable by the coalition partners. Agreements are kept. In addition, there is still enough room for profiling.
pent-up demand in foreign policy
In Lower Saxony Dürr was once responsible for energy policy, in the Bundestag he had taken care of financial policy for the past few years. As a faction leader, he now has to play on all topics. When he was invited to a talk show a few months ago, the topic was changed without further ado, instead of the corona pandemic, it was about the Ukraine war. The other guests were swapped, Dürr was allowed to stay. “I’m already well versed in financial issues, inflation and energy policy,” he says. He had to familiarize himself with other areas. “I wasn’t prepared for the war. I had some catching up to do in foreign policy.”
After graduating from high school in Ganderkesee and doing community service at the blood donation service in Bremen, Dürr studied economics in Hanover. He wrote his diploma thesis on CO2 emissions trading. In a coalition working group, Dürr once jokingly referred to himself as the “Taliban emissions trading company”. He has a lot of free market instruments for climate protection and little for state bans. He fights the speed limit as well as the statutory combustion engine off. The faction leader also represents the pure doctrine of the FDP in financial policy.
There are definitely intersections with the Greens on other issues, such as immigration. Years ago, Dürr demanded that 500,000 people should come to Germany every year to alleviate the shortage of skilled workers.
Member of the “potato kitchen”
But Dürr is not a born fan of traffic lights. The time in the Lower Saxony state parliament with the black-yellow coalition shaped him. He is a member of the so-called potato kitchen, a group of politicians from the CDU and FDP. Nevertheless, in his speeches in the Bundestag he recently took a harder line on Friedrich Merz and the Union, which some in the CDU resent.
Dürr sees it professionally, that’s the distribution of roles between the coalition and the opposition. He takes an exchange of blows in a sporty way, similar to the scuffles at traffic lights.
During the tour of the Ideas Expo, Dürr can try his hand at a laser-controlled Hau-den-Lukas game at the Continental stand. He lets the gavel down, then the screen says “Place 171: Christian”. The look of the FDP faction leader says: There could be more. But the schedule says: He has to go on. Discipline wins, but the next opportunity to make a name for yourself will definitely come.
More: SPD, Greens and FDP are heading for major conflicts