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Cablegate: Fdp Chief Westerwelle Fails to Lead Party Out Of

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 FRANKFURT 000401

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL GM
SUBJECT: FDP CHIEF WESTERWELLE FAILS TO LEAD PARTY OUT OF
CRISIS AT NATIONAL MEETING IN STUTTGART

1. (SBU) Summary: The Free Democratic Party's (FDP)
traditional Three Kings gathering in Stuttgart (January 5-6)
is one of the first major national political conventions in
the new year and generates a lot of media interest.
National Party Chief Guido Westerwelle was under pressure to
deliver a speech guiding his party out of its current
crisis. Although he satisfied many delegates by presenting
a clear list of policy themes, including a return to free
market economic ideas, social welfare reform, and better
education, Westerwelle disappointed many with an overly-
idealistic view that the FDP should try to be a large "party
of the people" like the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) or
the Social Democratic Party (SPD). FDP floor leader
Wolfgang Gerhardt, generally thought of as a foreign policy
expert, actually received the strongest response,
occasioning speculation that he could potentially replace
Westerwelle (though Gerhardt has repeatedly stated that he
is not interested in being party chief). Gerhardt blasted
the SPD-Green government's incompetence in economic and
foreign affairs, and stressed the relevance of FDP expertise
in these areas. Gerhardt also made several pro-U.S.
statements. End Summary

--------------------------------------------- ----
Westerwelle Outlines Five Themes, But Disappoints
--------------------------------------------- ----

2. (SBU) Expectations were high on January 6 in Stuttgart.
Over a thousand guests and party members at the Stuttgart
opera house wanted to hear FDP National Party Chief Guido
Westerwelle provide policy direction to lead the party out
of its current doldrums. The FDP party's traditional Three
Kings gathering in Stuttgart (January 5-6) is one of the
first major national political conventions in the new year
and generates a lot of media interest. The FDP has been
hurt in recent months by a scandal related to North Rhine
Wesphalia (NRW) party leader Juergen Moellemann's anti-
Semitic flyer shortly before the September 2002 national
elections. A controversy over the brochure's financing, and
Moellemann's quarrels with the Central Council of German
Jews damaged the FDP's reputation. A campaign initiated by
Westerwelle and Moellemann, seen by many as based more on
public relations antics than substance, irritated the
party's traditional supporters particularly in the business
sector. "Project 18," the failed campaign to get 18 percent
of the national vote in September 2002 elections also cost
the party credibility. The FDP managed a mere 1.4 percent
gain in the 2002 national elections over its dismal 1998
results.

3. (SBU) In his one-hour address, Westerwelle missed a
chance to reinvigorate the party. Without mentioning
"Project 18," he spent much time defending the FDP as an
alternative to the SPD and CDU. Westerwelle said the FDP
needed to become a party for all people since liberal ideas
are "good for Germany." The FDP should be more broadly
based as a party of the people and be at "eye-level" with
the CDU and SPD. Other party leaders and supporters have
told us that they view this as unrealistic, and that it was
thus deeply disappointing for many.

4. (SBU) Westerwelle described five core FDP policy themes:
a renewal of free market economics; a reform of Germany's
social welfare system -- with the recognition that things
could become uncomfortable for awhile; a strengthening of
education, including research and development; continuity
and dependability in foreign affairs; and a healthy debate
on traditional values in Germany (i.e. that traditional
values are not old-fashioned, but relevant and essential
today). Westerwelle's speech failed, however, to address
the FDP's lack of clear policy goals, something that has
upset the party's traditional support base. He seemed to be
focusing on the ideal, rather than managing the party's
current difficulties.

5. (U) On economic issues, Westerwelle called for tax
reductions to stimulate growth and a withdrawal of state
involvement in the private sector. He criticized the
national government's holding of shares in over 400 private
enterprises. Westerwelle also demanded more flexibility in
the labor market, restructuring of the social welfare
system, and a more flexible tariff system. He also stated
the party should point out the positive impacts of
globalization. On state support, Westerwelle emphasized
that whoever receives financial or educational support from
the state should have to make a contribution back to the
state, but did not outline specifics. Westerwelle also
suggested the reintroduction of demographic factors in the
pension and healthcare systems to more accurately assess the
impact of an aging population with fewer younger workers to
support it.

6. (U) On foreign policy, Westerwelle stressed the need to
act as a reliable alliance partner. He chastised Schroeder
for using the misleading phrase "German way." Germany's
foreign policy must be compatible with European foreign
policy. He also stated that there is not "too much America
in international politics but rather not enough Europe."
Westerwelle received polite applause for his one-hour
address.

-------------------------------------
The Resurrection of Wolfgang Gerhardt
-------------------------------------

7. (SBU) The best speech of the day was delivered by FDP
Bundestag floor leader Wolfgang Gerhardt, who received a
standing ovation. In a rousing address, Gerhardt asserted
the liberal principles the FDP should stand for. The over-
burdened social welfare systems must be cut back: they are
the biggest obstacles to creating new jobs. He demanded
more individual responsibility, a renewal of free market
economics, improvements in education, a reshaping of
Germany's social systems, fair competition and international
cooperation in foreign policy matters. He pointed out that
he agrees with Westerwelle that the FDP has to increase its
membership, but without compromising the party's character
or traditional principles.

8. (SBU) Gerhardt sharply attacked the SPD-Green national
government for allegedly hiding the extent of the country's
budget deficits before the election. He predicted that the
next national budget is already out of balance since it is
based on faulty economic predictions. In reference to the
upcoming state elections in Hesse and Lower Saxony, Gerhardt
called out to the audience "Vote yourself free on February
2!" He described Schroeder as the most unprincipled
Chancellor since the beginning of the Federal Republic.

9. (SBU) Gerhardt also delivered several strong pro-U.S.
statements. He reminded the audience of the "Speech of
Hope," delivered by U.S. State Secretary James F. Byrnes on
September 6, 1946 at the Stuttgart opera house which
encouraged German citizens after the devastation of war.
Gerhardt said that gratitude has to remain an aspect of
foreign policy. He chastised Schroeder and Foreign Minister
Fischer for using anti-American rhetoric in their election
campaign and damaging Germany's reputation abroad.
"American soldiers died to save us from the Nazis, and we
must never forget that," he said, "A former U.S. President,
the first President Bush, supported our reunification when
we needed help." Concerning Iraq, Gerhardt noted that his
party would support an intervention without a UN mandate but
that differences of opinion with the U.S. could be managed
in a friendlier atmosphere.

---------------------
A Bad Day for Doering
---------------------

10. (SBU) Along with Westerwelle, another leading FDP
politician had a bad day. On January 5, at the traditional
Baden-Wuerttemberg (B-W) state party convention preceding
the annual Three Kings Gathering, B-W State Chair and
Economic Minister Walter Doering got a black eye from his
rank and file in his bid to remain State Chair, receiving
nearly 20 percent less support than in 2001. Although he
was reelected for another two years to lead the B-W FDP,
Doering received only 77 percent of the votes and was
visibly disappointed. Contacts told us that many delegates
are still upset over the B-W government coalition agreement
reached with the CDU in which FDP issues are almost non-
existent.

-------
COMMENT
-------

11. (SBU) Comment: The 2003 Three Kings Meeting in Stuttgart
was not the much awaited turning point for the FDP.
Westerwelle could not - or did not want - to deliver a
speech that would carve out big themes for the future.
Instead, he seemed determined to continue with the strategy
of turning the FDP into a "people's party" with a larger
base like the CDU or SPD. "It is not the objective of the
FDP to support one of the other two big parties." In the
wake of the failed "18 percent" campaign, this seems to many
supporters overly optimistic. However, with two important
state elections (Hesse and Lower Saxony) on February 2, the
assembled leadership of the FDP could do little else than
demonstrate solidarity with Westerwelle.

12. (SBU) Comment - Continued: How long this solidarity
will last will depend on the outcome of the February 2 state
elections. With his fiery and well-received speech in
Stuttgart, Gerhardt has revived speculation that he may be
an alternative to Westerwelle. It was also noteworthy that
several of the speakers mentioned the importance of the
German-U.S. relationship and the need to improve
transatlantic relations in the wake of Schroeder's damaging
comments during the campaign last year. End Comment

13. (U) This message has been coordinated with Embassy
Berlin.

BODDE

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