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Cablegate: Much at Stake for Spd in Northern Germany

VZCZCXRO6019
PP RUEHAG
DE RUEHAG #0068/01 3181517
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P R 141517Z NOV 07
FM AMCONSUL HAMBURG
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0191
INFO RUEHRL/AMEMBASSY BERLIN 0176
RUCNFRG/FRG COLLECTIVE
RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHAG/AMCONSUL HAMBURG 0211

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HAMBURG 000068

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV GM
SUBJECT: MUCH AT STAKE FOR SPD IN NORTHERN GERMANY

REF: A. A) HAMBURG 065
B. B) BERLIN 1977

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Germany's Social Democratic Party (SPD)
celebrated its return to traditional party values and
strengthened its forces during its national convention October
26-28 in Hamburg. Privately, however, SPD members have noted to
Poloffs that the real test for party chairman Kurt Beck as well
as the for party's standing will be the 2008 local elections in
Hamburg, Lower Saxony and Hessen (Ref B). The SPD faces a
difficult challenge in Hamburg and Lower Saxony. Its success in
Hamburg may depend on The Left party's performance, since votes
won by The Left probably will come mostly at the expense of the
SPD (Ref A). END SUMMARY.

2. (SBU) For the first time in thirty years the SPD held its
national party convention in Hamburg, auspicious in that both
Hamburg and neighboring state Lower Saxony will be holding key
state elections on February 24 and January 27, 2008
respectively. Further, both states are traditional SPD
strongholds but currently under Christian Democratic (CDU)
leadership. The SPD continues to trail the CDU in polls in both
states. SPD mayoral candidate for Hamburg Michael Naumann
opened the convention with an appeal for Hamburg to return to
the SPD fold. He and Lower Saxony SPD candidate for
Minister-President Wolfgang Juettner sat front-center of the
presidium throughout the convention well in view of TV cameras.
Beck as well as other prominent speakers continuously expressed
their support for the SPD candidates. These three upcoming
state elections are critical for the SPD in that they will serve
collectively as a weather vane, gauging the political winds two
years before national parliamentary elections.

CDU: THE LEFT PARTY WILL DETERMINE COALITION OPTIONS IN HAMBURG

3. (SBU) SPD convention speakers aimed to paint a critical
picture of Hamburg's economy in order to support the need for a
change in government. In his convention speech, Naumann
described long lines in front of Hamburg soup kitchens,
long-term unemployment, and high debt. He called for social
reform, a minimum wage, and, of course, a change in local
government. Yet, this message may not resonate with Hamburg
residents; sitting CDU mayor Ole von Beust enjoys high approval
ratings and in the September Infratest-Dimap polls for Hamburg,
62 percent of the population thought the city is moving in the
right direction. According to October data, unemployment is
down 15 percent compared to last year and the city is one of the
leading states in Germany for job creation. Finance Senator
Michael Freytag (CDU) and von Beust announced on October 31 the
city's plans to pay off its first one million Euros in old debt
and maintain a balanced budget.

3. (SBU) SPD politicos, however, are optimistic. In
conversations following the national convention, local and
national SPD politicians have asserted that the party is
significantly stronger coming out of the convention. At a
dinner on November 5, Hamburg state parliamentarian Aydan Vzoguz
commented that SPD members are energized and morale is up. She
believes that this will motivate volunteers and voters. In a
November 1 meeting at the consulate, Hamburg Bundestag
representative, member of the SPD national board of directors,
and parliamentary whip Olaf Scholz expressed confidence that the
convention strengthened the SPD and predicted that his party
will be able to build a ruling coalition in Hamburg. He said
that the party will only need 36 percent of the vote in order to
form a coalition with the Greens. In the September
Infratest-Dimap polls for Hamburg, the SPD was at 32 percent -
10 percent behind the CDU.

4. (SBU) The CDU maintains that its lead over the SPD will hold.
In a meeting with the CG and Pol/Econ Officer on November 9,
CDU caucus leader in the Hamburg parliament Bernd Reinert was
confident that his party would continue to govern the city.
According to Reinert the CDU has regularly polled over 40
percent and may be able to pull enough votes to form a
government on its own. He stated that much will depend on
whether The Left party will be able to overcome the five percent
parliamentary threshold required to enter the parliament. If
they do, then the SPD will most likely be too weak to form a
coalition with the Greens. (Note: The Greens have been polling
between 13 and 14 percent, The Left party at seven percent, and
the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) at four percent. End
Note.) In such a case, Reinert said the CDU would turn to the
Greens as coalition partners. Reinert surmised that if The Left
are not strong enough to enter the Hessen or Lower Saxon
parliaments then they will lose momentum in Hamburg and not
receive over five percent. He stated that the CDU will focus on
traditional FDP voters since they believe the FDP does not have
a chance to overcome the threshold. At the Hamburg Greens 25th
anniversary celebration on September 2, the Greens made it very
clear that they would prefer to ally themselves with the SPD,
but are open to a CDU coalition.

HAMBURG 00000068 002.2 OF 002

LOWER SAXONY: A MAJOR CHALLENGE FOR THE SPD

5. (SBU) SPD Parliamentary Whip Scholz admitted that the SPD
will have a very difficult run in Lower Saxony. Current M-P
Christian Wulff (CDU) is extremely popular -- 72 percent
popularity ratings. SPD candidate Juettner appears to have
benefited from the party's national convention. His popularity
ratings jumped 16 percent in November to 31 percent.
Nevertheless, the SPD in Lower Saxony is only pulling 33 percent
in the November polls while the CDU continues to receive 44
percent approval ratings. Currently the Greens are at eight
percent and FDP at seven percent. The CDU is expected to
continue its coalition with the FDP in January. While the
October 23 poll showed for the first time The Left party
overcoming the five percent hurdle, in November the leftist
party dropped a point to four percent.

6. (U) This cable has been coordinated with Embassy Berlin.
JOHNSON

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