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Cablegate: Germany/Bavarian Politics: The Ascension of Minister

VZCZCXRO0315
PP RUEHAG RUEHDF RUEHIK RUEHLZ RUEHPOD RUEHYG
DE RUEHMZ #0354/01 3051348
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 311348Z OCT 08
FM AMCONSUL MUNICH
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 4546
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC
RUCPDOC/USDOC WASHDC
RUEHZG/NATO EU COLLECTIVE
RUCNMEU/EU INTEREST COLLECTIVE
RUCNFRG/FRG COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 MUNICH 000354

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV INRB GM
SUBJECT: GERMANY/BAVARIAN POLITICS: THE ASCENSION OF MINISTER
PRESIDENT HORST SEEHOFER

SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED. NOT FOR INTERNET DISTRIBUTION.

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SUMMARY
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1. (SBU) Politically resilient Horst Seehofer, elected Christian
Social Union (CSU) chairman on October 25 and Bavarian Minister
President on October 27, now has the challenging task of
resurrecting his much-weakened party in the months leading up the
September 27, 2009 Bundestag elections. Nobody in the CSU has been
more identified with the social issues portfolio of the CSU. His
critics have characterized him as the "ninth minister of the Social
Democratic Party (SPD)" in Chancellor Merkel's federal cabinet. His
style is populist, charismatic, and maverick. Detailed biographic
data follow in paragraph 6. An analysis of Seehofer's tenure as
Agriculture Minister reported Septel. End Summary.

2. (SBU) The CSU will look to reform its message and presentation
in order to resonate with a 21st century Bavaria, reassert its
supremacy at home, and restore its influence on the national stage.
The party has put its hopes in Horst Seehofer. For over twenty
years, Seehofer held a variety of political offices in Bonn and
Berlin, and he comes with political baggage. Since a close brush
with death in 2002 from the life-threatening illness myocarditis, he
has more than once re-emerged after being all but written-off as a
political player. Sources close to Chancellor Merkel have told us
that he annoys her and that she has only tolerated his serving as
her Federal Agriculture Minister since former Minister President
Edmund Stoiber insisted Seehofer get the job in 2005. Revelations
in 2007 of an extramarital affair in Berlin -- replete with baby --
deeply offended the Catholic sensibilities and leadership of the
CSU, but it has turned out that the party rank-and-file remained
loyal. Today, Seehofer owes his sudden comeback, unthinkable before
the Bavarian state election on September 28, to their despair.
Deeply traumatized by the loss of its half-century absolute majority
in Bavaria, the CSU cast about for a new leader and -- rather
quickly -- found it in him.

---------------------------------------------
Seehofer's Positions: Vague and Contradictory
---------------------------------------------

3. (SBU) Seehofer can claim only modest achievements as Federal
Agriculture Minister, the post from which he just resigned.
(Analyzed in more detail SEPTEL.) He was able to keep his name in
the press and used his position to rehabilitate his image. For
example, when he assumed office, he was a public supporter of
genetically engineered crops. However, when protests by GreenPeace
and organic farmers drew widespread attention, he reversed his
public stance on the issue, sensing political opportunities. His
rhetorical skills and his readiness to listen won him much support
in the public arena. (Note: As Minister-President of Bavaria he is
legally prohibited from holding a national ministerial position.
End note.)

--------------------------------------------
A Jolly Soul, A Good Talker, A Self-Promoter
--------------------------------------------

4. (SBU) Seehofer is a natural politician, performing well on talk
shows as well as in beer tents. At the same time he has been
accused of being a loner, an egotist and an opportunist. He has
never left any doubt about his interest in becoming party chairman,
but it is likely that not even Seehofer himself ever dreamed of
becoming CSU party chairman and Minister President simultaneously,
following in the footsteps of Franz Josef Strauss and Edmund
Stoiber.

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Comment
-------

5. (SBU) Seehofer still has work to do to convince his critics, who
took a leap of faith electing him party chairman with 90 percent of
the vote and Minister President with only four dissenting votes from
the CSU and FDP coalition. He is a Berlin import who insists on his
independence and rejects old boys' networks. Political observers
are eagerly waiting for his first government declaration on November
13. Two important challenges lie ahead - a good result in the
European Parliament elections in June 2009 and a return to old CSU
strength in the national elections in September 2009. This is a
precondition for a replacement of the current grand coalition with a
CDU/CSU/FDP coalition. End Comment.

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Biographical Information

MUNICH 00000354 002 OF 002


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6. Horst Seehofer is the first Bavarian Minister-President without
a university degree. He is a graduate of the Bayerischen
Verwaltungsschule (Bavarian School of Administration) in public
management. Seehofer was born July 4, 1949, the son of a truck
driver/construction worker in Ingolstadt, a city at Bavaria's
center, part of the district of Upper Bavaria but close to
Franconia. He first entered the Bundestag in 1980; in 1986, CSU
chairman Theo Waigel engaged him as secretary in the CDU/CSU-FDP
coalition talks. From 1983 to 1989 he was spokesman for social
affairs of the CSU caucus in Bonn. From 1989 to 1992, he served as
Parliamentary State Secretary at the Ministry for Labor and Social
Affairs. On May 6, 1992, Chancellor Helmut Kohl nominated him
Federal Minister for Health, a position he held until 1998. In this
capacity, he started a number of reform projects, such as higher
contributions for patients to health carriers as well as budget cuts
for medical doctors and hospitals. Although his opponents had to
concede he was one of the few experts on the German health system,
medical doctors still resent his rough savings course. Open
opposition to Angela Merkel's idea of a "per capita flat rate" in
2003 cost him the position as deputy CDU/CSU caucus chairman in
Berlin. In 2005, he gave up a new job with the so-called "VdK" (an
interest group for patients, handicapped, and retirees) to become
Federal Minister of Agriculture, Food and Consumer Protection.

Seehofer was CSU deputy party chairman from 1994 until being elected
Chairman last week.

7. (U) Seehofer is married to his second wife and has three grown
children. He also has a baby girl from an extramarital affair who
was born in 2007. He is a model-train enthusiast.

8. (U) Consulate General Munich coordinated this report with
Embassy Berlin.

9. (U) Track previous reporting from Munich at
http://www.intelink.sgov.gov/wiki/Portal:Germ any.

Crockart

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