Cablegate: Hesse Spd Reignites Left Party Cooperation Debate

DE RUEHFT #2701/01 2411216
O 281216Z AUG 08




E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Hesse SPD Reignites Left Party Cooperation Debate

REF: Frankfurt 1066; Frankfurt 0698

Sensitive but unclassified; not for internet distribution.

1. SUMMARY: The Hesse SPD is once again playing with fire by moving
forward with plans to form a SPD-Green minority government supported
by the Left Party. Simply reopening the question of cooperation
with the Left has already unleashed a firestorm of debate in the
national press, fomented infighting among SPD leaders nationwide,
and helped lower the national party's poll numbers to an all-time
low. With a national election looming in 2009, the CDU will get
mileage by portraying a minority government in Hesse as a sign that
the SPD may also be prepared to cooperate with the Left at the
national level, if doing so would open the door to the Chancellery.


2. The Hesse Social Democratic Party (SPD) leadership decided August
13 on moving forward with a plan to elect party leader Andrea
Ypsilanti minister-president with the support of the Greens and the
Left Party -- despite Ypsilanti's campaign pledge not to cooperate
with the Left. The vote to elect Ypsilanti and thereby oust the
leader of Hesse's caretaker government Roland Koch (CDU) would
likely come when the Hesse parliament reconvenes on November 18.
The Hesse SPD decided it would hold its party convention to discuss
and vote on this matter on October 4 rather than in mid-September so
as not to disadvantage the SPD in the September 28 Bavarian
elections. (Bavarian SPD chairman Franz Maget had expressed openly
his worries that the Hesse SPD's plan could damage his party's
success in the September 28 election.)

3. (SBU) National SPD chairperson Kurt Beck has repeatedly, and
recently with some asperity, emphasized that state party
organization has full authority to form a coalition of its choosing.
The SPD's national leadership, however, August 15 publicized a
joint statement expressing the national SPD's "serious concerns
about the course of the SPD in Hesse" and advising that the Hesse
SPD "must also accept responsibility for the overall state of the
SPD in Germany." The statement was signed by Beck, his three
deputies -- FM Steinmeier, Finance Minister Steinbrueck, and
Bundestag Member Nahles, as well as SPD General Secretary Hubertus
Heil. The controversial debate has played a significant role in
bringing the party's support to a historical low, 20% in an August
27 Forsa poll compared to the CDU's 37%. The press widely
interprets the Hesse SPD's maneuvering as a further sign of the
national party's drift to the left and Beck's weakness as a leader,
fueling rumors that he will not run as chancellor in 2009.


4. The Hesse SPD made an initial attempt in March to form a
minority government, following an inconclusive election which left a
Christan Democratic Union (CDU)-caretaker government in power, but
stopped when SPD state parliamentarian Dagmar Metzger said she would
not support it (see reftels). While Metzger still remains closed to
the idea, the three parties nevertheless have a slim one-vote
majority in the state parliament and could elect SPD chairperson
Ypsilanti Minister President on November 18, when it meets. Leading
left-wing SPD parliamentarian Gernot Grumbach, however, told Poloff
that the SPD could not absolutely ensure party discipline in such a
close vote that would be conducted by secret ballot.

5. Despite the open reservations and near-warnings by her national
party that cooperating with the Left would signal the party's
willingness to work with the Left on the national level, Ypsilanti
and her party are driven by the desire to get into office and oust
Roland Koch. The flirtation with the Left Party has already damaged
the Hesse SPD's popularity, making a new election an unattractive
option. The attempt brings great risks as collapsed talks between
parties or an unexpected failure to win the vote in the parliament
would undoubtedly further damage the party.


6. Differences between the SPD, the Greens and the Left in Hesse
remain although all three parties appear committed to making the
plan work. In a conversation with Pol Spec, Kai Klose, Hesse Green
Party Secretary General, put chances of success at less than 50%
given the Left Party's unpredictability and disagreements between
the SPD and Greens, such as which party would get the Environment
Ministry. However, he felt that his party was "between a rock and a
hard place" and could not possibly pursue its only other available
path, a government with the CDU and FDP, without alienating its

7. The Hesse Left Party must also reach consensus among its diverse
and fractious members at a state convention on August 30. Several
prominent members have announced they will vote against such a move
and try to unseat the party's leadership. Even if the party does
agree to go forward, it could demand unrealistic concessions, such

FRANKFURT 00002701 002 OF 002

as reversing federal state privatizations, that neither the SPD nor
Greens have the power to give. The convention will test whether the
party members are "full-blown communists with fundamentalist
tendencies," as Klose characterized them, or potential working
partners. Revealing the importance of success in Hesse for the
national party, Left Party national leader Oskar Lafontaine has
already voiced his desire to see a minority government go forward in

8. COMMENT: Should the plan fail, the Hesse SPD will face a crisis
in leadership that could possibly see Ypsilanti give up her seat as
chairperson and result in a new state election sometime in 2009.
Success appears equally, if not more, perilous for both the state
and the federal party. Looking at an election in 2009, the federal
party has its credibility in question as party leaders like Kurt
Beck swear off cooperation with the Left at the national level but
allow the Hesse SPD to renege on its own pre-election promise not to
do so. By trying to win the battle in Hesse now, the Hesse SPD
threatens to damage the national party's chances to win the war in

9. This cable was coordinated with Embassy Berlin.

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