Cablegate: Hesse Installs Cdu Caretaker Government

DE RUEHFT #1066/01 0991339
O 081339Z APR 08





E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Hesse Installs CDU Caretaker Government

REF: Frankfurt 0698; Berlin 0265

Sensitive but unclassified; not for internet distribution.

1. SUMMARY: After months of contentious political deadlock, the
newly-elected Hesse parliament convened April 5 and, as expected,
failed to elect a government. As dictated by the state
constitution, the current CDU cabinet stays on as a caretaker
government under the leadership of Roland Koch. This unpopular
result is of little advantage to the ruling CDU, which will find it
hard to achieve political objectives. Without a voting majority in
the parliament, the way ahead is uncertain for all parties, with
much speculation on whether the unwieldy system will force a break
in the deadlock or if the parliament will vote to hold a new
election. The Hesse stalemate demonstrates the political upheaval
caused by the entrance of the Left Party into several western state
parliaments, making the formation of traditional two-party
coalitions more difficult. END SUMMARY.


2. Following the January 27 state election, the new Hesse Landtag
(state parliament) was sworn in April 5. The Christian Democratic
Party (CDU) and Social Democratic Party (SPD) each hold forty-two
seats, while the Free Democratic Party (FDP) has eleven, the Greens
nine and the newly-elected Left Party six. No parties were able to
agree on the formation of a majority coalition in the time since the
election. The SPD, most notably, failed to form a controversial
minority government with the Greens supported by the Left Party when
one of its own members said she would vote against it. The current
all-CDU cabinet under Minister President Roland Koch can
theoretically stay on as a caretaker government until the next
scheduled election in 2013.

3. The new arrangement is unprecedented in Germany, as previous
caretaker governments have typically had a largely reliable voting
majority to work with, as was the case in Hesse in 1983 with the SPD
and the Greens. Koch has said the current situation is less than
perfect, but has promised to carry out any laws passed by the
parliament even though the cabinet could, in theory, block
legislation. The SPD, Greens and Left Party appear ready to quickly
pass a law abolishing student higher education fees, which will test
the cabinet's relationship with the parliament. On the national
level, though, the CDU will continue to represent Hesse in the
Bundesrat, the federal upper house of parliament, weakening the
SPD's ability to press forward with demands for a national minimum


4. Koch said last week that he cannot imagine a caretaker
government lasting more than a year, highlighting the necessity of
passing a budget this coming autumn as a critical moment that could
break the deadlock. After running a harsh campaign against the SPD
and Greens, the CDU is now attempting to mend fences with the Greens
to form a so-called "Jamaica" coalition together with the FDP.
After refusing to shake hands with Green Party leader Tarek al-Wazir
following a pre-election debate in January, Koch approached al-Wazir
for a handshake at the parliament's opening session. The Greens
remain very skeptical of cooperation with the CDU and will monitor
closely how the CDU votes on issues important to them -- such as
equal legal standing for homosexual couples -- to test the CDU's
claims of good will.

5. Like the CDU, the SPD also has no clear way forward. After
dissent within the SPD killed an attempt to form a controversial
minority government with the Greens supported by the Left Party, the
SPD ruled out a Grand Coalition with the CDU at a party convention
on March 29. The majority of the SPD voted to support state Chair
Andrea Ypsilanti and gave her permission to try to form a minority
government later in the year. Juergen Walter, Ypsilanti's more
conservative intra-party rival, resigned from the party's board at
the convention in order to distance himself from the SPD
leadership's leftward leanings. Revisiting the minority government
with Left Party support option would likely be unpopular with the
public and would undoubtedly reignite a firestorm of criticism
inside the national SPD and further damage national SPD Party
Chairperson Kurt Beck.

6. An April 5 Emnid poll gave the CDU 37% (unchanged from election
night), the SPD 30% (down 6.7%), the FDP 12% (up 2.6%), Greens 10%
(up 2.5%) and the Left 6% (up .9%). The results, which appear to
reflect public disenchantment with the SPD's flirtation with the
Left Party, would most likely translate into a CDU/FDPmajority in
the event of a new election. The ne Landtag could decide, by a
simple majority vote to hold a new election at any time (although
it emains unclear which parties would support such a roposal).

FRANKFURT 00001066 002 OF 002

7. COMMENT: The caretaker government is unloved by all sides, born
out of necessity and an inability to reach a compromise. It faces a
tough road ahead, risking political stagnation and public
disenchantment. The alternatives, however (new elections or a
breakthrough in coalition talks), are also fraught with risks. With
federal elections looming in 2009, the situation in Hesse will have
national as well as local implications (reftels). The entry of the
Left Party into four western state parliaments has changed the
political landscape. Traditional two-party coalitions, such as
those between the CDU and FDP or between the SPD and Greens may not
muster the numbers needed to govern. Political leaders from all the
parties are recalculating their coalition options and leaving the
door open to new possibilities. How this plays out in states such
as Hesse and Hamburg will prove instructive on the national level.

8. This cable was coordinated with Embassy Berlin.

© Scoop Media

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