At the FDP, they didn’t even try to sugarcoat the result in North Rhine-Westphalia. A “bitter defeat,” said top candidate Joachim Stamp. “It really hurts,” admitted FDP Vice Johannes Vogel. “A really horrible evening,” said defense politician Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann.

A seven percent loss in Germany’s most populous federal state, only just getting back into the state parliament: It’s a debacle that will occupy the liberals for a long time. Because the result is not only bitter for the FDP in North Rhine-Westphalia. The result is an alarm signal for the entire FDP.

To be fair, one must first say that there are of course also regional reasons for the result in NRW. In 2017, party leader Christian Lindner was the top candidate. The current top candidate Stamp is no stranger, but it just didn’t come close to Lindner in terms of popularity. In addition, the anger in NRW over the FDP school minister Yvonne Gebauer, who was neither able to convince during the pandemic nor keep her election promises.

The head-to-head race between CDU Prime Minister Hendrik Wüst and SPD top candidate Thomas Kutschaty also harmed the FDP. This time, middle-class Liberal voters may have voted for the CDU to prevent a transfer of power to the SPD. The FDP lost an estimated 260,000 voters to the CDU.

But the defeat in NRW is not an isolated case. In the state elections in Saarland in March, the FDP was kicked out of the state parliament, in Schleswig-Holstein it only got 6.4 percent – a minus of five percentage points. Party leader Lindner explained afterwards that federal politics had played no role.

But now, at the latest, with three resounding election defeats in a row, this story no longer works. The FDP has to face the bitter truth: So far it has not benefited from the traffic lights in the federal government. While the Greens are spurred on by the popularity of Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and Economics Minister Robert Habeck, the opposite is the case with the FDP.

There are probably three reasons for this. Firstly, your ministers have remained pale so far. One of the reasons for this is that the focus is on the war in Ukraine. The FDP departments of education, transport or justice are currently not in the center. FDP Minister of Transport Volker Wissing attracted attention again these days because he had pointed out the energy consumption of food photos posted on social media.

Second: the difficult role played by Finance Minister Lindner. 100 billion special assets for the Bundeswehr, 40 billion relief package for the citizens – the FDP man currently has huge debts. Although this can be well justified in each case, the impression that sticks with the FDP core clientele should not be positive. Lindner is increasingly seen as the nation’s paymaster. The fact that he insists on wanting to comply with the debt brake again next year does little to change that.

Third: the partially questionable concept of freedom of the FDP in the federal government. Lately, Liberals have tried to please their core constituency by fighting for causes they see as related to freedom. For example: the abolition of the mask requirement in retail at a time when many virologists were still warning about it. Or: the absence of a general speed limit on German autobahns.

Clearly, none of this is enough to keep their voters. With her core clientele, the self-employed, she lost eleven percentage points in NRW. The result is also problematic for Christian Lindner because he comes from North Rhine-Westphalia and was heavily involved in the election campaign here. The meager result is now going home with him.

After triumphing in the federal elections, the FDP slipped into a crisis with the three failed state elections. She would do well to deal intensively with the reasons for this now – and not to damage herself even more with panic attacks.