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Cablegate: Kindergarten Capers: Cdu Eats the Spd's Lunch

VZCZCXYZ0015
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHRL #0442 0641531
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 051531Z MAR 07
FM AMEMBASSY BERLIN
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 7306
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUCNFRG/FRG COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS BERLIN 000442

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: SOCI PGOV GM
SUBJECT: KINDERGARTEN CAPERS: CDU EATS THE SPD'S LUNCH


1. (U) Summary. In the debate with minority conservative
elements in her own party over creation of new
day-care/pre-school slots for Germany's children, Chancellor
Merkel is advancing her program of modernizing the CDU's
social image. At the same time, she has stolen at least some
of the Social Democrats' thunder as the socially progressive
party. The substantive dispute with the SPD is small,
however, and if compromise can be reached on funding the new
slots, it will represent a substantial achievement in the
social sphere, to the possible benefit of coalition
stability. However, if the CDU is able to use the issue to
win big in important 2008 state elections, the already
unhappy SPD rank-and-file may become further alienated from
the Grand Coalition. End Summary.

2. (U) CDU Minister for Family Policy Ursula von der Leyen
has raised a storm with proposals to create 750,000 new
day-care/pre-school places in Germany, where policy has long
been structured to favor stay-at-home mothers. Beyond
seeking a policy response to Germany's low birth rate and low
employment particiaption rate for women, the proposal must
also be seen in the context of Merkel's long-term push to
reform the CDU's view of society and social policy so as to
maintain or increase the party's electability. The storm
arose, in the first instance, as social conservatives in the
CDU and, especially, Bavarian CSU criticized the move, as
have conservative Catholics. However, the popularity of the
proposal in the CDU as a whole is undoubted and no major
figure has taken up opposition. Rather, state leaders such
as Roland Koch, Christian Wulff, and Juergen Ruettgers have
spoken in favor of the proposal.

3. (U) An aspect of the debate that offers Merkel and the CDU
greater opportunities has been the impact of von der Leyen's
proposal on the SPD. Concerned about the potential blow to
the SPD's image as the party of social justice (in a Spiegel
poll published March 3, 33% of respondents say the CDU/CSU is
doing the most for families, 26% say the SPD), General
Secretary Beck and four other party leaders called a press

SIPDIS
conference on February 26 to present the SPD's own plans for
early years child care. However, many of the basics seem
already agreed -- both the number of new places and the
preservation of a system of child support payments for
families who wish to keep their children at home in their
pre-school years are agreed. Thus, the SPD criticism of von
der Leyen's proposal largely focused on the lack of a
detailed plan for funding the new places. The SPD did
present a financial plan, and the debate is now likely to
shift to coalition wrangling over the financial details.
Chancellor Merkel has called for negotiations within the
coalition and has said that "where there's a will, there's a
way."

4. (U) Already buoyed in polls by her leadership role in the
EU and G-8, agreement on an increase in child-care coverage
could give Merkel and the government a substantial domestic
policy boost (much needed after the tax increase and widely
disparaged health care reform). The benefit to the CDU could
also be considerable among women, younger voters, and
urbanites - the root of the SPD's worries (Note: CSU SecGen
Soeder has told ConGen Munich that working-age women are one
of the weakest demographic groups for the party. End Note).
The SPD will continue to scramble to make up lost ground.
Some observers are already suggesting that the CDU's
initiative could reinforce its strong position in Hesse,
where the SPD had hoped to use family policy as a key plank
in its January 2008 election campaign. While seemingly
contradictory, it is conceivable that while the government as
a whole gains from a new child care policy, the SPD could
become more dissatisfied with a Grand Coalition.
KOENIG

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