The idea was presented to the 662 delegates by Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the former foreign minister who was a master of employing the party's old political tactic: Win a small share of the vote and then serve as the power broker in a coalition. It was a tactic that gave the party a place in German coalitions for 40 years.
This year, the party is taking a radically different approach in its bid to win 18 percent of the vote. Supporters of the idea even had to win over Mr. Westerwelle. A year ago, he said he opposed the suggestion advanced by Jürgen Möllemann, the chairman of the Free Democrats in North Rhine-Westphalia, who is fond of jumping out of airplanes in his untiring effort to sell the party to voters.
But on Sunday, Mr. Westerwelle had a different assessment of the suggestion:
"What was wrong last year can be right this year".
He said that the party was now in a new situation and that this required a new approach. The new situation to which he was referring was a string of election successes since September that has made the party a member of the governing coalition in Hamburg and has put it into a position of forming a coalition in the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt.
"Last year, it would have been presumptuous to have done this," Mr. Westerwelle said on Sunday. "Today, we would be selling ourselves short not to do it."
Mr. Westerwelle and Mr. Genscher described FDP as a party that represented all of the people and said that they intended to campaign on an equal basis with the Social Democrats and the Union parties. They said that the FDP was no longer restricted to a particular voter group, and with voter loyalties now much weaker, the Free Democrats had totally new possibilities of winning support.
Mr. Westerwelle will be campaigning on a platform whose primary plank is designed to help cut the country's ranks of unemployed, a group that
numbered more than 4 million last month. The best way to do so is to cut tax rates, the party says. It pledges to create three tax brackets -15, 25 and 35 percent. The highest bracket would cut 13.5 percentage points from the current top tax rate.
"All the other parties put their confidence in the state first, and then in its citizens. The Free Democrats put it the other way round," Mr.