wikileaks ico  Home papers ico  Cables mirror and Afghan War Diary privacy policy  Privacy
IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
10BERLIN184 2010-02-16 16:11:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Berlin
Cable title:  

FDP DIZZY FROM IDENTITY CRISIS AND COALITION

Tags:   PGOV GM 
pdf how-to read a cable
VZCZCXRO4742
PP RUEHAG RUEHROV RUEHSL RUEHSR
DE RUEHRL #0184/01 0471611
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 161611Z FEB 10
FM AMEMBASSY BERLIN
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6557
INFO RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUCNFRG/FRG COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
					  C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BERLIN 000184 

SIPDIS

EUR FOR CE

E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/16/2020
TAGS: PGOV GM
SUBJECT: FDP DIZZY FROM IDENTITY CRISIS AND COALITION
ANIMOSITY

REF: A. BERLIN 164

B. BERLIN 153

Classified By: MINISTER-COUNSELOR FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS GEORGE GLASS FO
R REASONS 1.4 (B) AND (D).



1. (C) SUMMARY: Will Merkel defend Westerwelle? The German
media wants to know. After one hundred days in office,
poignant questions are percolating as to how prepared the
liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) is to govern the country
within the current coalition. The FDP has suffered a major
drop (from 14.6% to 8 percent) in the polls since the
September 27 elections, a situation exacerbated by its
increased frustration with its Christian Democratic Union
(CDU)/Christian Social Union (CSU) coalition partners. The
party's thin leadership veneer has become weathered, with the
party relying on chairman and Foreign Minister Westerwelle to
articulate domestic policy. Determined to stop the
popularity free fall, Westerwelle has resorted to
inflammatory statements to build profile, but which may
further tarnish his party and stoke coalition discord. His
"cry havoc" strategy may not be working in a time of economic
distress. This dramatic situation comes less than three
months before elections in North Rhine-Westphalia, where
current polls show the governing CDU-FDP coalition has lost
its majority were elections held today. Whether Westerwelle
can reverse momentum prior to the elections will prove
critical to the national coalition's functionality. End
Summary.

THE PREMATURE END OF A LOVE AFFAIR


--------------------------





2. (C) The FDP's approval ratings as of February 5 had
dropped to eight percent, leaving the party at the bottom
rung of the political party tables behind the Greens (17%)
and The Left Party. This has occurred just four months after
achieving its historic electoral success of 14.6 percent.
(Note: Exactly one year ago, the party was polling at 18
percent. End note.) Reacting to the startling news,
Westerwelle quickly switched gears from cautious foreign
minister to risk-taking party chairman. He convened an
emergency session of the Party's Executive Committee to plumb
the FDP's polling plight, coalition infighting, and the
controversial government law to reduce sales taxes on hotel
stays. Westerwelle and FDP Economics Minister Bruederle
cracked the whip urging committee members to sharpen their
profile and aggressively rebuff attacks from the opposition
and from within the government coalition. FDP campaign
strategist Helmut Metzner told Poloff February 12 that
Westerwelle would follow his belief that diplo-speak should
be left to his role as foreign minister, whereas he would use
straight-talk in the world of domestic politics.



3. (C) Westerwelle may have taken this to an extreme,
however. Reacting to the Constitutional Court's February
decision that the government was not providing enough money
to welfare recipients, Westerwelle said that promising people
prosperity without work would encourage Germans to indulge in
"late Roman decadence," and that working people "are
increasingly becoming the idiots of the nation." His
comments have met with icy criticism from the CDU/CSU as well
as opposition parties, with CDU General Secretary Groehe
calling on Westerwelle to refrain from populist and
inflammatory rhetoric. Chancellor Merkel has distanced
herself from Westerwelle's statements. Westerwelle has
called for a parliamentary debate on the matter, which may
prove to be even more polarizing, and could damage the FDP
further.



4. (C) At a February 8 luncheon hosted by the Ambassador for
seven FDP parliamentarians, including the FDP's Defense
Spokesperson Rainer Stinner, Disarmament Spokesperson Elke
Hoff, and the MFA Deputy Director, Policy Planning Staff,
Robert von Rimscha, it was clear that the FDP is unsettled by
its current poll rut and its inability to devise an effective
communications strategy. FDP parliamentarian and human
rights spokesperson Marina Schuster blamed the party's poor
non-existent communication strategy after the negotiation of
the coalition agreement for the party's poor start. Schuster
was especially worried by the potential damage the party had
incurred with the party's base over its inability to
articulate a vision and market its policy successes. Hoff
blamed her party's difficulties on their prolonged stay in
opposition, including the party's problems adjusting to the
realities of a five-party political system with different
coalition permutations.

NRW at Stake

BERLIN 00000184 002 OF 002




--------------------------





5. (C) The plunging polls may not have been so alarming were
it not for the May 9 elections in North Rhine-Westphalia
(NRW). The latest polls show that were state elections to be
held now in NRW, the CDU-FDP coalition would not have the
numbers to return to government. The FDP remains seized by
the fear that the CDU may be looking to form a coalition with
the Greens in NRW. CDU Environment Minister Norbert
Roettgen's controversial push for a quick phase out of
nuclear power prompted an angry outburst by Westerwelle at a
coalition committee meeting on February 9; it remains a stark
reminder how fickle and sensitive the government coalition is
with regard to staking out positions for the elections in NRW.



6. (C) Westerwelle's "decadence" comments -- as the media
has now referred to them -- has especially alarmed Andreas
Pinkwart, NRW Deputy Minister-President and FDP state chair.
Pinkwart has since called on Westerwelle to share leadership
responsibilities with other FDP politicians with high public
profiles, from both the federal and state levels. In a
February 15 newspaper interview, Pinkwart said, "More
teamwork is needed in the party leadership" and requested
that "more faces (of other FDP leaders) be put up front." In
this connection, he mentioned the FDP federal cabinet members
and singled out FDP Secretary General Christian Lindner, who
is from NRW. Other FDP politicians criticized Pinkwart's
move as sending the wrong signal at a time when Westerwelle
has come under attack for his position on welfare reforms.

COMMENT


--------------------------





7. (C) The FDP is slowly but surely awakening from its
political honeymoon with voters after the recent publication
of bad polling news. According to von Rimscha, "it is better
to receive the wake up call now, instead of in April or early
May in the run-up to the elections in North Rhine-Westphalia
on May 9." With his party focused on defining its message
and managing its CDU/CSU coalition partners, Westerwelle will
be focused on how he can lead his party out of its current
identity crisis and at the same time manage his (less
critical) foreign affairs portfolio. If Westerwelle's
reaction to the Court's welfare decision is an indication of
what is to come, the FDP may continue on its downward spiral.
Westerwelle seems to be betting that building profile is
everything; hence, he seems to be staking out visible and
tough positions on taxes, Afghanistan, tac nukes, Hartz IV,
data privacy, and the proverbial kitchen sink. He may be
hoping to avoid being "Steinmeiered" into obscurity by the
predictable, low-key yet inexorable CDU/CSU, and emerge as a
kind of Genscherian "thorn in the side" of the coalition that
cannot be ignored. However, as we have heard many times, the
German public does not generally embrace political turmoil or
party squabbling, especially in times of crisis. Even a more
risk-inclined FDP base may believe that their party chief has
exceeded his bounds, especially in provoking its coalition
partners and barking louder than either the Greens or the SPD
-- both of whom may be wistfully wondering if their future is
back in government.
Delawie