Cablegate: Hesse Minister-President Roland Koch: Polarizing,

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




E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: A) 2002 FRANKFURT 11843; B) FRANKFURT 392

1. (SBU) Summary: Hesse's Minister President Roland Koch
(Christian Democratic Union - CDU), is the most prominent
state politician in the CDU and is a strong leader of his
party's conservative wing. He is a potential CDU chancellor
candidate in 2006. If the CDU-FDP coalition wins state
elections on February 2, and especially if his party wins an
absolute majority, his influence will expand even more.
Koch is ambitious, controversial and polarizing. After
surviving a major party financing scandal in 2000, he is now
stronger than ever. Koch is pro-U.S. and has been bold in
speaking out on international issues. His four years as
Minister-President have been successful: he has focused on
economic growth, crime reduction and improving education.
Koch is a strategic thinker who will certainly leave his
mark on CDU policy in the future. End summary.

Roland Koch - Conservative, Influential, Polarizing
--------------------------------------------- ------

2. (SBU) Roland Koch is aggressive, confident, energetic
and ambitious. He is a gifted public speaker, who works
tirelessly to promote the interests of the CDU, speaking
around the state and nationally and appearing frequently in
the media. Many voters and the media also find him
controversial and polarizing. Other CDU contacts have
described him as "not likeable," "arrogant," and "a tough
power player to the core." German newspapers have described
him as: "The Shadow Chairman" (Spiegel, July 2002);
"Hardliner without Humor" (Rheinpfalz, January 2002); and a
"politician of extremes" (Badische Zeitung, November 2002).
At a press conference in 2000, Koch used the vernacular
Hessian expression "brutalstmoeglich" (literally "as brutal
as possible," but meaning "straightforward"), which critics
use to label him as ruthless, and admirers to show he is
tough and aggressive. His surprise victory in the Hesse
state elections in 1999 was largely attributed to his
party's campaign against dual citizenship. Though it
worked, many perceived Koch's actions as a callous
exploitation of visceral anti-immigrant sentiment.

3. (SBU) Even Koch's admirers say his power politics are
harsh. His early backing of CDU Chancellor candidate Edmund
Stoiber over Angela Merkel for the September 2002 national
elections was heavy handed and said to have caused frosty
relations with Merkel for months. A fellow Minister-
President, quoted anonymously in the Stuttgarter Zeitung,
described Roland Koch's role in the CDU: "Merkel has the
official power, but Koch pulls the strings." Koch survived
a major party financing scandal in 2000, though it brought
him close to resignation. His survival skills have earned
him respect from the conservative wing of the CDU but the
moniker "Teflon man" from critics.

Koch and Hesse: Goals and Achievements

4. (SBU) As a conservative, Roland Koch is a bit of an
anomaly for Hesse, a traditionally liberal state led by
Social Democrats for decades. Koch claims that his biggest
achievement has been making the political climate in Hesse
more conservative. Koch's mentor in politics was Alfred
Dregger, who dominated Hesse's CDU in the 1970s and 80s.
Dregger is credited with increasing CDU voter support in
Hesse from 30 percent in the 1970s to above 40 percent
today. Koch's major themes and achievements as Minister-
President reflect this conservative tradition:

- "Competition and Excellence." (Koch encouraged
university reform, added 2900 new teachers to Hesse schools,
changed the curriculum to make subjects such as mathematics
and German obligatory, and helped create a new school for
gifted students.)

- "Safety and Control." (Koch hired more policemen;
created a volunteer police force, the "Hilfspolizisten" who
receive six weeks' training; presided over a reduction in
the crime rate; and facilitated the purchase of new police

- "A pragmatic economic policy." (Koch has been very
outspoken on economic issues, vigorously supported Frankfurt
airport expansion, supported biotechnology and nuclear
energy, and expanded the state's road infrastructure.)

5. (SBU) Koch has indeed pushed hard to improve economic
growth in Hesse and has a "natural talent for economic
policy" according to his Chief of Staff. He has used his
influence on the board of Fraport (Frankfurt's Airport
Authority) to promote Frankfurt airport expansion, adding a
fourth runway and a new terminal. He also made national
headlines in 2001-2002 with social and labor market issues.
His welfare reform initiative, inspired by Wisconsin's, was
held up by the Bundesrat, though some of the ideas are now
incorporated in the labor reform bill known as the "Hartz
Paper." Koch is an idea man, and his State Chancellery has
been described as a "huge think tank" exploring social and
labor market reform, internal security and Frankfurt's role
in a globalized world.

Koch's Style: Energetic, Impatient, Detail-Oriented
--------------------------------------------- ------

6. (SBU) Koch has a keen mind, is detail-oriented, absorbs
information quickly, and is said to "devour files" often
until late in the evening. In general, he is a strategic
thinker, looking to the future and seeing the larger context
for issues. His former Chief of Staff Helmut Mueller told
us that Koch often thinks like a "lawyer with economics
training," rejecting concepts that are not legally or
economically sound. He has a well-deserved reputation for
structuring his work to keep the goal in sight. He keeps
himself well informed on a variety of issues including
military affairs, economics and foreign policy, through his
staff, his personal reading, and enthusiastic use of the
Internet. Koch surrounds himself with dedicated, hard
working people, who must keep up with his long hours and
hectic pace. He is sometimes very spontaneous, getting an
idea from a phone call, for example, then tasking his staff
-- even on weekends -- to implement it. Koch's Chief of
Staff Thomas Schaefer and others tell us Koch has "endless
meetings" to discuss issues and air views, sometimes putting
his team members on the spot, pointing at them and asking
them for an honest opinion. Koch likes to hear as many
opinions as possible before making a decision. He does not
like "yes men." Koch enjoys having well-educated people
around him -- both his present and former Chiefs of Staff
have PhDs -- and routinely consults subject matter experts.

7. (SBU) Once Koch has made up his mind, he can be impatient
for results and determined to push forward, reacting harshly
to criticism or dissent. Hesse FDP General Secretary Heino
Swyter said Koch's strong personality tends to dominate
state politics because "almost nobody in the cabinet dares
to oppose his views." Swyter decribes FDP Chair and Science
Minister Ruth Wagner as the only one "who dares to criticize
Koch during cabinet sessions." Contacts in the Social
Ministry are still frosted by the fact that Koch
circumvented them in late 2001, grabbing the issue of family
policy and making bold public announcements while ignoring
Social Ministry experts. Koch was apparently frustrated
when told of the difficulties of transferring a U.S.-style
welfare reform program such as "Wisconsin Works" into
Germany's vastly different labor and social welfare
structure. (The resignation of his Social Minister Marlies
Mosiek-Urban in 2001 was partly attributed to this
disagreement.) In another example, Koch had the State
Chancellery hire well-known social policy expert Judge
Borchert to chair a reform commission. Borchert submitted a
report with recommendations, but Koch and Judge Borchert did
not see eye-to-eye. When Koch cherry-picked only the ideas
he liked, Borchert told us he "was disappointed with Koch
and happy to go back to his old job."

8. (SBU) Koch is energetic and dynamic and has an abundance
of ideas, though when he sees that momentum for a project is
lost or the strategic moment for it has passed, he will move
on. Some observers have viewed this as "dropping most of
his great ideas halfway to realization." Others see it as
Koch prioritizing for maximum positive impact of his policy
initiatives. Koch's dynamism is also shown in his mastery
of material and ability to speak substantively and at length
without notes. He is impressive rhetorically and appears
frequently in the media. He has a lot of charisma, knows
how to get applause, and loves the spotlight.

Koch's Foreign Policy: Pro-U.S.

9. (SBU) Koch is very pro-U.S. and has loudly criticized the
damage done to the bilateral relationship by Chancellor
Schroeder. Koch has an active interest in U.S. politics and
policies. He traveled to the U.S. in 1992 on an
International Visitors Program and in 1996 to observe the
presidential election campaign. He has also visited the
U.S. several times privately. Koch has been supportive of
the U.S. military in Hesse and has helped the Consulate with
the purchase of a large piece of property in Frankfurt.
Koch considers himself a friend of HHS Secretary and former
Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson and gave him one of the
highest awards from the state. He even had his staff call
the Consulate in a frenzy one day to get Thompson's phone
number to wish him a happy birthday.

10. (SBU) Koch is candid with U.S. officials. For example,
Koch told the Consul General that the CDU faced a strategic
choice on Iraq. If the CDU were to appeal to those who are
anti-war, it could win a few votes, but would harm the party
in the long run and solidify Chancellor Schroeder's
position. The CDU must firmly support the U.S. position, he
concluded, and has gone forward in all his campaign speeches
with that line. Koch has also gone further on Iraq than
most other German politicians, stating he would support
military action in Iraq even without the backing of a UN
Security Council resolution. On terrorism, Koch has
repeatedly emphasized the need to prepare for a terrorist
attack, and has held well-attended seminars on internal
security and public safety.

11. (SBU) Koch had spoken out against Turkey's entry into
the EU. Again, he goes further than most CDU politicians by
not only pointing out Turkey's economic and human rights
problems, but stating that Europe's Christian traditions
would make Turkey the odd man out. Koch has suggested
Turkey needs a kind of "Marshall Plan" to build up its
economic strength. Koch has traveled to Asia and, like many
German leaders, sees China as a vital, growing market for
German goods and investment. Koch also has a strong
interest in Tibet and frequently visits websites of Tibetan
exile groups.

Other Biographic Information

12. (SBU) Koch was born on March 3, 1958. He is the son of
former Hesse Justice Minister Karl-Heinz Koch (CDU) and,
like his father, started his career as a lawyer in private
practice in Eschborn after studying law in Frankfurt. At
the age of 14, Koch established a CDU youth group in his
hometown of Eschborn. He was elected to Eschborn city
parliament in 1977, and then to the Main-Taunus county
parliament. From 1979 - 1990 he was District Chairman of
the Main-Taunus CDU. From 1983-87 he was also Deputy Party
Chairman of the national "Junge Union," the youth wing of
the CDU. In 1987, he was elected to the Hesse state
parliament and in 1990 became CDU caucus chairman. In 1998,
he took over the state party chairmanship from his mentor,
Manfred Kanther and was elected to the 40-member national
CDU Executive Committee. Koch speaks excellent English.
True to his name (Koch means cook), he is a talented cook
and enjoys Cajun cuisine. Koch is married and has two

COMMENT: Koch's Star will Rise

13. (SBU) Roland Koch is one of the most prominent state
politicians in the CDU and a strong leader of his party's
conservative wing. Koch's closest aides and staff are
unanimous about Koch's national ambitions and the media have
described him at recent conventions as "already rehearsing
for Chancellor in 2006." Speculation that Koch would leave
politics if he lost the Hesse state elections on February 2
is "absolute nonsense," according to Hesse CDU Parliamentary
Manager Stefan Gruettner. Koch, already a force to reckon
with in the CDU, will gain even more influence nationally if
he wins an absolute majority for the CDU, which opinion
polls say is within reach. Koch may want to put more of his
ideas in the CDU's national platform, in order to give it a
"dynamic conservative" spin, as he likes to say. Should
Koch lose the state elections (if the CDU's coalition
partner, the FDP, fails to gain the 5 percent necessary to
enter parliament), it may slow Koch down, but certainly not
end the career of a man involved in politics since the age
of fourteen. End

14. (U) This message was coordinated with Embassy Berlin.


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