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Cablegate: Saarland Spd Leader Criticizes Chancellor Schroeder

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

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 FRANKFURT 003946

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PINR PREL ECON GM
SUBJECT: SAARLAND SPD LEADER CRITICIZES CHANCELLOR SCHROEDER

1. (SBU) Summary: During his April 30 trip to Saarland, the
Consul General met 34-year-old Saarland opposition leader
Heiko Maas in Saarbruecken. The Consul General and Maas,
who is the state SPD chairman and Landtag caucus leader,
spoke about economic issues, including Agenda 2010 and the
upcoming Saarland state elections. Later, four members of
parliament joined for a discussion on Iraq. Maas was
critical of Schroeder's approach on social reform and
faulted the chancellor for "breaking his promise" on Iraq.
Maas has gained visibility in recent months by taking an
active role in the discussion of the Agenda 2010 reform
plan. He will challenge Saarland Minister-President Peter
Mueller (CDU) in the fall 2004 state elections. End
summary.

Maas: Saarland Successfully Achieves Structural Change
--------------------------------------------- ---------

2. (U) Heiko Maas, Saarland's SPD leader, is one of the
"young Turks" in the SPD national presidium. In an April 30
meeting with the Consul General in Saarbruecken, he
described the economic structural reforms in Saarland as
successful. When questioned by the Consul General about
economic prospects in the state, he said that many of the
infrastructure projects that are now paying off, had their
origins in the previous SPD administration. Maas mentioned
the Ford plant in Saarlouis, the cornerstone for a growing
automotive sector in the Saarland, as a prime example.
According to Maas, the automotive sector employs about
40,000 people in Saarland. Nobody in the SPD, said Maas,
disputes the necessity of phasing out the coal industry. He
mentioned renewable energy, nanotechnology and steel as
future growth industries in Saarland.

Critical of Agenda 2010 and Iraq policy
---------------------------------------

3. (SBU) Saarland has a majority CDU government, and Maas
said if the state elections were held today, the SPD would
lose to popular Minister-President Peter Mueller. It is not
enough for the SPD to simply press for reform of the social
welfare system. Maas cited the U.S.'s successful economic
reform measures. The Bush administration's policies gave
money back to the consumers and created investment. When
the Consul General pressed for more details, Maas suggested
lower taxes for middle and low incomes, while delaying tax
reductions for the wealthy. Maas cautioned that Schroeder
is skeptical of this. Measures to increase investment are
necessary, but conflict with the Maastricht criteria, Maas
admitted. Maas said that the money saved because of the
Koch-Steinbrueck proposal (which advocates cutting public
subsidies by ten percent) should not only be used for debt
reduction, but could be redirected in part to promote growth
industries. Referring to the Agenda 2010 social reform
plan, Maas declared early retirement (and thus earlier
pensions) as the biggest problem in the social welfare
system. People rarely stop working after they "retire." To
reduce unemployment benefits across the board would be a
mistake. Maas would prefer cuts that take the age of the
recipient into consideration.

4. (SBU) The Consul General closed the discussion by asking
for Maas' thoughts on Chancellor Schroeder's political
performance thus far. In a critique of Chancellor
Schroeder, Maas said it was necessary for the government to
keep its promises. Maas, who abstained on the Agenda 2010
vote in the SPD presidium, said he had experienced
Schroeder's broken promises all too often. He mentioned the
promise not to raise taxes as an example. On Iraq, Maas
said: "Schroeder's position was not consistent. To promise
the U.S. administration support on Iraq and later change
that line without notification was a mistake." Maas and the
other SPD parliamentarians emphasized to us that it was
important to distinguish the political realities of German
politics from personal relationships that made up the U.S.-
German partnership. Maas agreed with Consul General's
assessment that U.S.-German relations are still solid and
broad. All politicians were keen to "built a common bridge"
between Germans and Americans.

Comment
-------

5. (SBU) Since the SPD lost power in Saarland in 1999, Heiko
Maas has been trying to overcome the legacy of his
predecessor Oskar Lafontaine and give the Saarland SPD a new
image. Maas, who is on the left wing of his party but a
pragmatic Social Democrat, has consolidated his power base
and is now the undisputed leader of the Saarland SPD. He
will challenge Minister-President Peter Mueller (CDU) in the
2004 state elections. Because of his reaction to the Agenda
2010 reform plan, Maas has gained national recognition. He
is one of the most outspoken opponents of the plan, but
tries to mediate between supporters and critics. His
reaction was very reserved when we mentioned Lafontaine and
Ottmar Schreiner, a member of the left wing in the Bundestag
caucus. To win the 2004 elections, Maas will have to
energize his party without alienating the many Lafontaine
supporters. He intends to use the former Minister-President
in the election campaign to help reach out to these
Lafontainistas. In return, Lafontaine has promised not to
run for public office again. When assessing the viability
of this electoral strategy, one must bear in mind
Lafontaine's reliability (or lack thereof.) End comment.

BODDE

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