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Viewing cable 09BERLIN1176, MERKEL VS. STEINMEIER? WHAT DO THE GERMAN
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|09BERLIN1176||2009-09-22 13:01||CONFIDENTIAL//NOFORN||Embassy Berlin|
VZCZCXRO1354 PP RUEHAG RUEHROV RUEHSL RUEHSR DE RUEHRL #1176/01 2651345 ZNY CCCCC ZZH P 221345Z SEP 09 FM AMEMBASSY BERLIN TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5271 INFO RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE PRIORITY RUCNFRG/FRG COLLECTIVE PRIORITY RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 06 BERLIN 001176 NOFORN SIPDIS STATE FOR EUR/CE, INR (KEETON) TREASURY FOR ICN (KOHLER) NSC FOR JEFF HOVENIER E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/22/2019 TAGS: ECON EFIN EINV ENRG ETRD GM KJUS PGOV PREL PTER, SENV SUBJECT: MERKEL VS. STEINMEIER? WHAT DO THE GERMAN ELECTIONS REALLY MEAN FOR U.S. INTERESTS? REF: A. BERLIN 32 ¶B. BERLIN 1002 ¶C. BERLIN 1136 ¶D. BERLIN 1138 ¶E. BERLIN 1162 Classified By: MINISTER COUNSELOR FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS GEORGE GLASS FO R REASONS 1.4 (B) and (D) SUMMARY ------- ¶1. (C/NF) This is not a "change" election. The German public does not see the September 27 parliamentary elections as decisive, and on many foreign policy fronts, including Afghanistan, arms control, and Russia, we do not foresee significant or distinct policy differences between the two most feasible coalition options. The most likely results of the elections are a CDU/CSU-FDP (black-yellow) coalition or a continued CDU/CSU-SPD Grand Coalition. However, in some areas there may be changes, including on Iran, tax policy, and nuclear energy. More importantly, there may be a new foreign minister who will likely need to get up to speed quickly on such crucial issues as Iran, Afghanistan, and NATO's strategic posture. Leaders from the CDU/CSU and FDP promise a government more friendly toward the United States. The near certainty that Angela Merkel will remain chancellor argues for this, but the unpredictability of Foreign Minister-aspirant and FDP Chairman Guido Westerwelle may call for focused diplomatic engagement with the new FDP political actors (see REFTEL E for Post's comprehensive expose of Westerwelle). END SUMMARY. BLACK-YELLOW (CDU/CSU-FDP)? --------------------------- ¶2. (C/NF) It is virtually certain that Angela Merkel will retain her position as Chancellor after this Sunday's elections. But it is impossible to predict the final composition of the next coalition given that about a third of the electorate is still undecided and the polls show only a narrow parliamentary majority for black-yellow. Chancellor Merkel has repeatedly voiced her preference for a black-yellow coalition and has promised to form one even with a one-vote parliamentary majority. The FDP's Westerwelle has echoed this sentiment as its first choice as well. ¶3. (C/NF) The SPD has almost no prospect of leading a government and is only likely to remain in power as a weakened junior partner in another Grand Coalition, should the CDU/CSU-FDP come up short of a parliamentary majority. The SPD has failed to gain much momentum, although it has more recently risen a couple of points in the polls. It continues to suffer from an inability to profile itself against the CDU (or even a lack of desire to break with the CDU in any significant way), with which it has been in government for the past four years. Also unhelpful have been a string of losses in local, state, and the June European Parliament elections. ¶4. (C/NF) U.S. interests will not only be affected by the composition of the next coalition but also which parties are in the opposition. A CDU/CSU-FDP coalition would bring to power a new set of top players at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Justice, Environment, and at either Economics or Finance (as well as probably at least one other FDP-led ministry with some turnover in CDU/CSU ministries as well). The extent to which policy will change is less obvious, however, because FDP Chairman and Foreign Minister aspirant Guido Westerwelle has promised considerable continuity with Steinmeier's approach to foreign policy. In addition, the FDP's economic reform goals will face considerable resistance from the Bavarian CSU as well as parts of the CDU. The lack of coordination and consistency, including between the Chancellery and MFA, that often occurs in German policy making will continue to be a challenge for the United States. ¶5. (C/NF) A black-yellow coalition will face a more united opposition led by an SPD that is likely to move left if it leaves government and seeks to profile itself against the Greens and the Left Party, based on the profiles of SPD leaders waiting in the wings for Steinmeier and SPD Chairman BERLIN 00001176 002 OF 006 Franz Muentefering to leave. German governments can operate with narrow majorities due to strict party discipline (which gets stricter the narrower the majority), but Merkel has not shown much courage in using her considerable personal popularity to push through policies that lack public support. On Afghanistan, in particular, a black-yellow coalition may seek to simply roll over the ISAF mandate unchanged when it comes up for renewal in December, rather than risk a row in the Bundestag over an increase in the troop ceiling, which the Defense Ministry has concluded is necessary to deal with the growing insurgency in the German north. OR GRAND COALITION (CDU/CSU-SPD)? --------------------------------- ¶6. (C/NF) However, another Grand Coalition cannot be discounted, even though nobody professes to want it. It is a historical fact that the center-right parties have not won a parliamentary majority since 1994. Another Grand Coalition would almost certainly be even more difficult for the CDU/CSU and the SPD than the current one since both parties would be eyeing each other with distrust and the expectation that the government may not last an entire term. Further, Merkel's position within her party would be weakened by what would be viewed as her failure to achieve a coalition with the FDP while the Free Democrats would continue to take advantage of conservative dissatisfaction with the Grand Coalition's disgruntled CDU voters. ¶7. (C/NF) The SPD leadership might be secretly relieved not to lose their government posts, but its continued partnership with the CDU/CSU would likely cause further bleeding of the party's more leftist supporters to the Greens and Left Party, further weakening its base. In addition, the SPD left-right split might be exacerbated, with leftists tempted to prematurely rupture the Grand Coalition to build a majority red-red-green government where the SPD would hold the chancellorship. CDU officials certainly believe -- and have told the Embassy -- that they expect the SPD would seek to replace a Grand Coalition with a red-red-green one some time during the term. Even though Steinmeier has insisted that any coalition agreement would be for the entire legislative period, the distrust between the parties would remain. Plus, if the SPD performs badly in the election, Steinmeier literally may no longer be in a position to keep his word. GERMANY'S NEXT FOREIGN MINISTER - WESTERWELLE OR STEINMEIER? --------------------------------------------- --------------- ¶8. (C/NF) The election's most obvious impact on bilateral relations will be in terms of a potential change in foreign ministers. Our extensive experience with Steinmeier allows us to comfortably predict how a Steinmeier-led MFA would pursue German interests globally, and vis-a-vis the United States. On the other hand, Westerwelle continues to remain an enigma who has been unable to establish himself as a significant voice on foreign affairs. The FDP's foreign policy spokesman Werner Hoyer -- a well known foreign policy analyst in Germany and internationally, including in the United States -- has taken the lead here. When we asked Hoyer this week what would change with Westerwelle, he struggled to say anything. Westerwelle is a domestic political animal with little appetite for foreign policy and international affairs. He will, therefore, continue to be dependent for foreign policy advice on his mentor, former Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher as well as on Hoyer and whichever Ministry diplomats gain his trust (REFTEL E). ¶9. (C/NF) Westerwelle's attempt to position himself among Germany's foreign policy elite with a speech in May at the German Foreign Relations Council (DGAP) did not produce the intended results and instead revealed his limitations on such major issues as Middle East peace. If Westerwelle becomes Germany's next foreign minister, his learning curve will be steep. Germany's small foreign and security policy elite -- already skeptical of Westerwelle -- will resent his rise into the second most powerful political office of the land. And we will be faced with the question of how best to approach someone who has clearly had a mixed relationship with the United States. Despite Westerwelle's praise and respect for the current Obama Administration, we should not forget that, as part of the opposition, he has criticized the United States for the last eight years, while at the same time BERLIN 00001176 003 OF 006 offering very few ideas of his own on how to solve international problems (see REFTEL E). ¶10. (C/NF) If Steinmeier is able to lead the SPD to a strong enough showing to force a Grand Coalition, he certainly could maintain his position as Foreign Minister. He would also have the increased political clout provided by a mandate in the Bundestag and his success in blocking a CDU/CSU-FDP coalition. Obviously, there would be a high degree of foreign policy continuity. Unlike Westerwelle, Steinmeier is already on board with both sides of the U.S. approach to Iran, and he has told the Ambassador that he supports additional sanctions should Tehran fail to respond to U.S. overtures. However, competition between Steinmeier and Merkel over control of foreign policy will not end with the election, and Steinmeier would likely try to focus on a few key issues where he could differentiate himself and his party from Merkel and the CDU, with arms control, Afghanistan, and Russian relations being likely choices. Steinmeier wants to work closely with Washington on these issues and is less likely to surprise Washington than the Chancellery would be. ¶11. (C/NF) The goodwill that marked the first year of the Grand Coalition is unlikely to be repeated in a second term, particularly as Steinmeier contends with those in his own party who would prefer a leftist coalition. If there is not enough support for a CDU/CSU-FDP coalition, then there would likely be a numerical red-red-green majority in the Bundestag. The strained communication that currently marks Chancellery-MFA relations is likely to continue. Both Steinmeier and Merkel are responsible realists, however, who understand the need to work together on the big issues, as was evident during the Russian invasion of Georgia, their approach to the Middle East, and their reaction to the international financial melt down. If new crises arise, the two are likely to continue to put their own interests aside long enough to speak with a single voice. FOREIGN POLICY ISSUES IN BLACK-YELLOW AND GRAND COALITIONS --------------------------------------------- ------------- ¶12. (C/NF) AFGHANISTAN (Some Change): Westerwelle is one of the few German politicians who justifies the Afghanistan deployment on the basis of "German national security interests" and the FDP as a whole has been a consistent supporter of the ISAF mandate. But with only a narrow majority in the Bundestag and facing an SPD opposition ready to accuse them of militarizing the German mission, a CDU-CSU/FDP coalition ironically might be less willing (and able) to push through necessary troop increases than a Grand Coalition. On the other hand, there is likely to be no difference between the two on the support for police training, economic assistance and other civilian aid. ¶13. (SBU) ARMS CONTROL/NONPROLIFERATION (Little change): Westerwelle proudly says that the motto of the MFA under his leadership will be "peace through disarmament," thereby seeking to be even more pro-arms control than Steinmeier. Although Westerwelle has called for the removal of all U.S. tactical nuclear weapons from German soil by 2013, it is questionable whether he will manage to include this in a coalition agreement with the CDU/CSU given their likely resistance. ¶14. (C/NF) RUSSIA (No change): Like the SPD, the FDP sees Russia as a "strategic partner" in addressing issues such as Iran, energy, and Afghanistan and believes engagement and assistance with modernization is the best way to address Russia's democratic deficits. Like Merkel and Steinmeier, Westerwelle has pursued close ties to Russian leaders, including Foreign Minister Lavrov and Defense Minister Ivanov, both of whom gave him high-profile meetings in Moscow this past spring. ¶15. (C/NF) IRAN (Some change): Steinmeier has been a steady supporter of US policy toward Iran -- both in terms of dialogue and the need for increased sanctions if necessary, while Westerwelle has spoken almost exclusively about the need for dialogue. In addition, Westerwelle's FDP's pro-business orientation makes it particularly skeptical of sanctions and is also resistant to unilateral efforts to cut back trade. Merkel will likely have to take a stronger role in this issue to keep Germany's position from falling back to BERLIN 00001176 004 OF 006 the least common denominator. ¶16. (C/NF) TURKEY (Some change): A black-yellow coalition may result in a subtle, less favorable, shift in Germany's policy towards Turkey with the exit of the SPD -- Turkey's staunchest supporter -- from the government. Although FDP foreign policy experts recognize that EU membership is an important factor in encouraging additional domestic reforms in Turkey, it has kept an open mind on the issue. However, the FDP is more vocal than the SPD in its criticism of Turkey. ¶17. (C/NF) MIDDLE EAST (Little change): Westerwelle's views on Israel and Middle East peace may stem more from his past experience in addressing criticism against Israel and his interpretation of Germany's historical role toward Israel than from his own Middle East policy or strategic calculations. Some attribute Westerwelle's current pro-Israel stance as the result of his having been burned politically both domestically and in Israel in 2002. At that time, Westerwelle defended an FDP politician, Juergen Moellemann, who had published a brochure strongly critical of then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's actions towards the Palestinians. Some claimed the brochure was anti-Semitic. While in Israel shortly thereafter, Westerwelle was questioned by then-PM Sharon about what Sharon referred to as a growing anti-Semitism in Germany and Europe. In an August 2009 interview with "Der Spiegel," Westerwelle explained his decision to vote against Germany's participation in UNIFIL with his view that Germany cannot take a neutral position in the Middle East because of its past. He noted that he had visited the Golan Heights in Israel as a young man and was impressed with the vulnerability of the country. Even more so than Steinmeier, however, Westerwelle may seek a greater role for Germany and the EU in the Middle East. In the "Spiegel" interview, he called for the EU to launch an initiative to establish a conference for security and cooperation in the Middle East. We could expect both Steinmeier and Westerwelle to hold to U.S. messages on the Middle East, with both competing with the Chancellery for the lead on this issue. ¶18. (C/NF) GUANTANAMO (No change): Steinmeier would likely take a more accommodating approach toward Germany accepting some of the Guantanamo detainees than would Westerwelle, but the key ministry in deciding this issue will continue to be Interior. In either a black-yellow or another Grand Coalition, Wolfgang Schaeuble (CDU) could continue on as Interior Minister, although there is some talk of his being named as EU commissioner. Schaeuble has been very skeptical of accepting detainees from a security standpoint. More recently, he told the Ambassador that Germany would only take detainees who will require no surveillance. ¶19. (SBU) ECONOMIC CRISIS/INTERNATIONAL FINANCIAL REGULATION (Little Change): All potential government parties share a similar strategy; increase regulation and supervision of the financial sector with differences at the margin. The SPD advocates taxing share trades over 1000 euros and monitoring private equity funds more closely, while the CDU/CSU and FDP propose concentrating financial supervision under the Bundesbank. A black-yellow government would result in a new Finance Minister; if Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg remains at the Economics Ministry, then the FDP might be given the Finance Minister, with Hans-Otto Solms, an experienced and cautious financial policy expert, the most likely replacement. ¶20. (C) CLIMATE CHANGE (No Change): There is little difference between the parties on issues in play at the upcoming UNFCCC's COP-15 in Copenhagen, and Merkel maintains strong control over German policy in this area. There will be a new Environment Minister should a black-yellow government be formed, however, and it is unclear which party would then control the Ministry. In previous CDU/CSU-FDP coalitions, the CDU ran it but if the FDP does as well as current polls suggest, it might make a play for the Ministry. Current SPD Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel has had a high profile in his party's Bundestag campaign and could remain in place in a Grand Coalition. ¶21. (C) ENERGY (Some Change): The SPD insisted on continuation of the previous government's plan to phase out nuclear power plants during the last coalition negotiations BERLIN 00001176 005 OF 006 and would stick to this position again. In contrast, the FDP has been the party most open to nuclear energy, insisting that the phase-out itself should be at least slowed down to protect Germany's supply of energy. The CSU/CSU also wants to extend the possible life of existing nuclear power plants, provided they are safe, during a "transitional" period to provide time for Germany to switch to greater reliance on renewable sources. Recent controversies over the safety of some nuclear power plants have made Merkel and even the FDP less willing to press for reliance on nuclear energy. ¶22. (C/NF) DATA PROTECTION (Little Change): Data privacy has been a second-tier campaign issue but does arise in debates on domestic security policy. Another Grand Coalition could leave Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries (SPD) in place; she reluctantly agreed to the landmark data sharing initiative on serious crime and terrorism suspects (the Pruem-like agreement) due to privacy concerns. A CDU/CSU-FDP coalition might return Sabine Leutheusser-Scharrenberger to the Justice Ministry, which she headed from 1992-96 in the last black-yellow coalition (she resigned her office after the her party agreed to wiretapping legislation proposed by the CDU/CSU). She or any FDP Justice Minister would likely continue to see their role as the protector of civil liberties and therefore they would carefully scrutinize all bilateral and U.S.-EU data sharing initiatives. ¶23. (C/NF) COUNTER-TERRORISM/LAW ENFORCEMENT (Little change): The CDU will likely remain in control of the Interior Ministry regardless of the coalition, and Schaeuble, although 67, is likely but not certain to stay on for another term. He has brought U.S.-German CT cooperation to an unprecedented level, and no other German official has offered as much cooperation (except on the issue of resettling Guantanamo detainees where the focus on internal German security supersedes his desire to work with Washington). Any possible replacement -- Chancellery Chief Thomas de Maiziere has been mentioned in the press -- is unlikely to have his authority or expertise but will likely continue his policies. ¶24. (U) TRADE (No change): All five parties are committed to open market but the SPD, Greens, and The Left Party want environmental and social standards included while the CDU/CSU stresses the need for protection of intellectual property and the FDP worries about domestic subsidies and market access. None of the parties wants to restructure the German economy to reduce export-dependency and address global imbalances. Other U.S. interests, such as concluding the Doha round of trade negotiations, would not likely be affected by a change in coalition. ¶25. (U) TAX POLICY (Some change): Tax policy is often cited as the area where a black-yellow government would produce change. The FDP proposes a radical overhaul of the tax system to simplify the tax code and stagger the corporate rate. CSU leader and Bavaria Minister-President Horst Seehofer has been critical of the FDP plan, which he says will run up the deficit and impose an excessive burden on the public budget. Neither the CDU/CSU's nor FDP's tax proposals are realistic, however, in light of budget deficits that are expected to be more than 2 percent this year and 4 percent in 2010, just as mid-term targets for Germany's balanced budget amendment kick in. Some sort of tax increase therefore is a near certainty, perhaps in the form of an increase in the value-added tax. COMMENT ------- ¶26. (C/NF) Chancellor Merkel will continue to exert strong influence on German foreign policy in an attempt to create a political legacy in international affairs. This will be true whether the MFA is led by Steinmeier or Westerwelle. We can also predict that tensions between the Chancellery and MFA will remain based on different coalition partners controlling them. If Steinmeier returns to office, he will be a reliable partner. Westerwelle is a wild card; his exuberant personality does not lend itself to taking a back seat to Chancellor Merkel on any issue. If he becomes foreign minister, there is the possibility of higher profile discord between the Chancellery and MFA. This may demand focused diplomatic engagement by the USG with the new FDP political actors. END COMMENT. BERLIN 00001176 006 OF 006 Murphy