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Cablegate: Beleaguered Nrw Spd Reelects Chairwoman; Delegates Doubtful

VZCZCXRO9370
RR RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHLN RUEHLZ
RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHDF #0018/01 1070950
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 160950Z APR 08
FM AMCONSUL DUSSELDORF
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0131
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUCNFRG/FRG COLLECTIVE
RUEHDF/AMCONSUL DUSSELDORF 0147

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 DUSSELDORF 000018

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV ECON ELAB GM
SUBJECT: BELEAGUERED NRW SPD REELECTS CHAIRWOMAN; DELEGATES DOUBTFUL
ABOUT BECK CHANCELLOR CANDIDACY


DUSSELDORF 00000018 001.2 OF 002


Sensitive but Unclassified -- Not for Internet Distribution

1. (SBU) Summary: At a state party convention on April 5, the
North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) Social Democrats (SPD) reelected
chair Hannelore Kraft by a landslide, setting her up to lead the
party in four important elections in the state over the next 18
months. As the party strives to return to power in Germany's
former social democratic heartland, Kraft and visiting national
SPD chair Kurt Beck stressed their goal of pushing back Left
Party influence, but did not rule out future cooperation at the
state level. Kraft energized her party, but remains far from
becoming Minister President in 2010. The convention might have
bolstered Beck's comeback as party chairman, but few delegates
expected him to be SPD chancellor candidate in 2009. End
Summary.

A Beleaguered Party Prepares for 2009/2010 Elections
--------------------------------------------- ------

2. (U) Some 450 delegates convened in Duesseldorf for their
annual convention on April 5. The meeting came at a time when
the NRW SPD faces an unprecedented erosion of its electoral
base, partially a result of its leadership crisis nationally in
the wake of the controversy in Hesse about cooperation with the
Left Party. The most recent opinion poll, published on the eve
of the convention, showed the NRW SPD at an all-time low,
trailing the CDU by 10 percent (31 vs. 41 percent) two years
before the next state parliament elections. This is the largest
gap between the two parties since 1958, after which NRW evolved
into West Germany's social democratic "heartland," enabling the
SPD to govern continuously for almost 40 years until 2005. The
conclave was the first in a series of events planned for the
next 18 months to prepare for the 2009 statewide local, European
Parliament, and federal elections, as well as the 2010 state
parliament polls.

A Vote of Confidence for Kraft
-----------------------------

4. (SBU) The most important outcome was the reelection of
Hannelore Kraft (46), SPD state parliament Floor Leader since
May 2005 and State Chair since January 2007. The sole
candidate, she received 97 percent of the vote, one point more
than in 2007. A Kraft confidant claimed that this vote of
confidence proves that she can rally the party behind her and
lead it back to power in 2010.

Beck tries to get a Boost from NRW SPD
---------------------------------------

5. (SBU) National SPD chair Kurt Beck used the convention to
try to profit from the image of a united party. In a
well-choreographed move, he entered the hall when delegates were
giving Kraft a standing ovation, creating the impression for TV
that the crowd was celebrating him. Nevertheless, he put in a
"solid performance," as several delegates put it, doing no
damage to his reputation and evidently convincing many of the
rank and file that he's on the upswing. Delegates who had been
present at the Hamburg national convention last fall told us
that Beck's speech in Duesseldorf was "much better."

6. (SBU) Several delegates indicated to us that they expect
Beck to continue as national SPD chairman, but left no doubt
that "somebody else" (e.g. Foreign Minister Steinmeier) would be
the party's next chancellor candidate. Two politicians with key
positions in the national SPD pointed out to us that such a
tandem solution has worked well in the past (i.e. with
Brandt/Schmidt and Lafontaine/Schroeder).

Cooperation with Left Party Possible
--------------------------------

7. (U) In their speeches, both Kraft and Beck touched on
possible cooperation with the Left Party. Kraft vowed that the
NRW SPD would do everything possible to keep the Left below five
percent and out of the Landtag. The SPD seeks "conflict," (sic)
she stated, not cooperation, with the Left. However, she also
stressed that it made no sense to speculate about possible
coalitions two years before the next elections, thus leaving the
door open for cooperation, if necessary, to replace the CDU-FDP
coalition.

8. (SBU) Beck reiterated the official SPD position that each
state organization would decide for itself whether to cooperate
with the Left Party, but that there would be no such cooperation
at the national level. A district chairman from the Ruhr region
told us the SPD's commitment against cooperation with the Left
nationally would only hold as long as Lafontaine remained Left
Party Bundestag floor leader (as an SPD renegade, the SPD
leadership would refuse to deal with him). Another national SPD
figure from the Ruhr confided that he was unhappy with Beck's

DUSSELDORF 00000018 002.2 OF 002


and Kraft's statements on this issue, as he would have liked
them to disassociate themselves from the Left Party in clearer
terms.

Comment
--------

9. (SBU) In contrast to the uncertainty surrounding the
national SPD leadership, the NRW party projected an image of
unity behind Hannelore Kraft. She may have energized her party,
but she will have a difficult uphill battle to regain power in
its former heartland. Kraft also visibly helped Beck, whom she
considers a kindred spirit and an ally, using the convention to
try to bolster his fortunes as party chairman. Support from the
largest SPD state organization nationally will be vital as he
tries to restore his position in the party. However, we
encountered no delegates who would predict that he will be SPD
chancellor candidate in 2009.

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

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