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Cablegate: The Left Party in Nrw: An Emerging Factor in State Politics

VZCZCXRO9367
RR RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHLN RUEHLZ
RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHDF #0017/01 1070950
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 160950Z APR 08
FM AMCONSUL DUSSELDORF
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0129
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUCNFRG/FRG COLLECTIVE
RUEHDF/AMCONSUL DUSSELDORF 0145

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 DUSSELDORF 000017

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV ECON ELAB GM
SUBJECT: THE LEFT PARTY IN NRW: AN EMERGING FACTOR IN STATE POLITICS


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Sensitive but Unclassified -- Not for Internet Distribution

1. (SBU) Summary: Barely six months after forming its
North-Rhine Westphalia chapter in October 2007, the Left Party
is changing the political landscape in Germany's most populous
state. The party is gaining in membership and in the opinion
polls and already has its first state parliament (Landtag)
member. The party has not adopted a formal platform, but some
leaders appear to be attempting to moderate the leadership's
rather hard line approach. With the NRW Social Democratic Party
(SPD) in disarray, the Left Party will be a factor in the state
elections in 2010, although it is much too early to predict how
much. It is, however, likely to complicate coalition building.
Having doubled its electoral support projections in the last 2-3
years, the party is trending upward. End Summary.

Hard Left Leadership, Increasing Membership
------------------------------------------

2. (SBU) When the Left Party established its chapter in NRW in
October 2007 via the merger of two small left parties, the
western WASG and eastern PDS, it was the last state in Germany
to do so. Since then, the party has gained considerably in
visibility and influence in the state. Its co-chairs, Wolfgang
Zimmerman (formerly of the WASG) and Ulrike Detjen (formerly of
the PDS), are pursuing a rather hard line, isolationist course,
refusing Pol/Econ Officer's request for a meeting on the grounds
that "U.S. policy is diametrically opposed" to their ideology
and publishing their response in the Berlin left-wing newspaper
JungeWelt. Left Party Bundestag Member Hueseyin-Kenan Aydin, a
Turkish-born trade unionist and one-time SPD member from the
Ruhr area who co-founded the NRW WASG, told Pol/Econ Officer
that party leaders are still debating their course. While they
appear extreme now, he expected them to moderate their tone and
policy positions over time. He said he expressed
dissatisfaction during internal meetings with Zimmermann and
Detjen over their decision not to meet with us, arguing that
dialogue is important and encouraging engagement with the USG.

3. (SBU) With some 6,300 members, Left Party membership in NRW
is comparatively low (cf. Greens: 9,900 and FDP: 16,100), but
the numbers have grown by approximately 15 percent since its
formation, making it the only party in the state on the rise.
Of its 132 elected officials statewide, the vast majority sit on
city councils. The party also boasts a well structured
organization with 52 local sub-districts. Their strategy is to
focus on local elections in 2009 as a means to solidify their
base and prepare for the 2010 Landtag elections. The press has
reported that Zimmerman believes the party can enlarge its base
in medium and large cities, drawing on disaffected SPD voters,
particularly in the unions and in economically weaker regions
like the Ruhr Valley. German Confederation of Trade Unions
(DGB) chairman in NRW Guntram Schneider indirectly confirmed
this, telling the CG recently that many union leaders were
attending Left Party speeches and events.

The Left Finds a Voice in the Landtag, Already
--------------------------------------------

4. (SBU) Although predecessors WASG and PDS separately obtained
far less than the five percent needed to enter the state
parliament in the 2005 state elections, the Left Party
experienced its first major success soon after its formation,
when independent deputy Ruediger Sagel (a former Green deputy)
joined the party in late 2007, providing its first (and so far
only) seat in the parliament. Sagel told Pol/Econ Officer he
joined the party because the Greens had become "too mainstream."
He has become prominent, in part because Green and SPD deputies
use him as a conduit to voice some of their views.

Future Prospects
----------------

5. (SBU) Recent opinion polls show the Left Party winning 6-8
percent of the NRW popular vote, if elections were held today.
Many party leaders are optimistic about the party's prospects,
given continued weakness in the state SPD leadership and
discontent in the rank-and-file. They also expect their results
to be even higher because many voters do not express their true
opinions to pollsters, as happened recently in Lower Saxony.
They express confidence that the SPD will have to consider some
form of cooperation after 2010 if it wants to replace the
CDU-FDP coalition.

SPD Does Not Foreclose Cooperation with the Left
--------------------------------------------- --

6. (SBU) In the past few months, SPD state parliamentary floor
leader and SPD NRW chair Hannelore Kraft has publicly stated
several times that in view of the emerging five-party political
landscape, it would be "unwise" for her party to exclude a
priori a coalition or cooperation with the Left Party, even if

DUSSELDORF 00000017 002.2 OF 002


she could not conceive of it at the moment due to the NRW Left
Party's radical positions on various issues. Kraft indicated to
the CG that it was not clear in which direction the Left Party
in NRW would develop and which of the wings (PDS or WASG) would
dominate. She said she was "appalled" by Zimmerman's lack of
knowledge of basic economics, his support for nationalization of
big industry, and his call for Germany's withdrawal from NATO
and the EU. Describing Detjen as more "pragmatic" and "closer
to reality," she said no one could foresee the Left Party's
positions in 2010. Publicly, she has called Hesse SPD Chair
Andrea Ypsilanti's campaign promise to desist from cooperation
with the Left "a mistake," as she later had to break it.

Comment
------

7. (SBU) It is much too early to speculate whether NRW could
face a chaotic situation like that following the Hesse state
elections in January. Unlike Ypsilanti, Kraft has refused to
preclude cooperation with the Left Party, although there is
opposition within her party to such a move. Based on current
trends and barring major unforeseen developments, the party is
likely to make it into the next Landtag, which could well
complicate the formation of the next governing coalition. Its
presence in the Landtag, albeit by a lone parliamentarian, has
already given the party a more formal and visible role in state
politics. Its participation in the next government would have
negative implications for the United States.

8. (SBU) There appears to be debate within the NRW Left Party
over its direction and policy platform. Its leaders are
currently more hard line than at the national level, but some of
their views could soften over time. It is not clear how strong
the "moderates" are or how much they differ from the
leadership's current policy line. Membership, though growing
fast, still lags well behind the FDP and Greens. The party
appears to be gaining primarily at the expense of disaffected
SPD voters and sees itself on something of a roll, but faces an
SPD that is increasingly fighting back and will not give up
easily.

9. (U) This message was coordinated with Embassy Berlin.
BOYSE

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