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Cablegate: Germany's Liberal Party Hits the Mark in National

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 000462

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PINR PREL GM
SUBJECT: GERMANY'S LIBERAL PARTY HITS THE MARK IN NATIONAL
CONVENTIONS, BUT LONG ROAD AHEAD

REF: 03 FRANKFURT 8335

1. SUMMARY: In strong recent performances at the FDP (Free
Democrat) national convention in Stuttgart January 6-7 and
European election kick-off in Saarbruecken Jan. 17, party
head Guido Westerwelle called for less government and more
private initiative, starting with radical tax reform. Party
leaders condemned the Schroeder government for mishandling
the U.S.-German relationship and voiced strong opposition to
Turkey's admission to the European Union. Delegates also
endorsed a draft law (reftel) to ban headscarves in Baden-
Wuerttemberg public schools. Overall, the FDP made a good
show of unity in its political heartland, but it remains
unclear whether the party can capitalize on voter
dissatisfaction with the Schroeder government. END SUMMARY.

Westerwelle Puts In Strong Performances
---------------------------------------

2. After a difficult 2003 for Westerwelle and the FDP --
with the apparent suicide of controversial FDP figure
Juergen Moellemann (accused of corruption and anti-Semitism)
and wide criticism of Westerwelle's leadership style -- the
FDP chief's convention speech in Stuttgart appeared to
energize rank-and-file members. Calling 2004 the "year of
the liberal," Westerwelle criticized recent economic reforms
as token and asserted that only the FDP can promote a
fundamental change of mentality that would help Germany move
beyond the "free rider" syndrome: Germans "all sit in one
boat and everybody has to row." Westerwelle stressed
economic liberalization and private initiative as keys to
reviving the country's moribund economy. He called for
radically simplifying the tax code and lower tax rates
across the board to spur initiative and ease the problem of
unregistered labor (Comment: although all of Germany's
major parties have engaged in a spirited debate on tax
reform, this far only the FDP has submitted a concrete
proposal in the Bundestag). The FDP chief noted that the
CDU (Christian Democrats) and even SPD (Social Democrats)
now endorse ideas which the FDP has espoused for years. On
the selection of a new president in May -- where FDP will
hold the balance -- Westerwelle said the FDP will not/not
automatically support a CDU/CSU candidate.

3. Westerwelle advocated letting universities collect
tuition and select their own students, dismissing the
Schroeder government's plan to establish elite German
universities as insufficient. He said Germany must do more
to retain top students, noting that one out of every seven
German doctoral students leaves for the United States,
attracted by better educational/professional opportunities.

"Collateral Damage" in the Transatlantic Relationship
--------------------------------------------- --------

4. FDP Bundestag caucus leader Wolfgang Gerhardt emphasized
the importance of the U.S.-German partnership and Germany's
participation in transatlantic institutions. He praised
U.S. willingness to promote stability throughout the world
and called German foreign policy weak and uncoordinated.
Gerhardt said the Schroeder foreign policy had caused "too
much collateral damage," undermining U.S.-German relations
and Germany's international credibility.

Keep Turkey Out of the EU for Now
---------------------------------

5. FDP speakers voiced support for the European Union and EU
enlargement and criticized the SPD-Green government's
handling of key European issues (under the slogan "We can do
Europe better"). Gerhardt and B-W Deputy Minister-
President/FDP State Chairman Walter Doering cautioned that
with ten new member states joining the EU in May, the EU
must reform its institutions before taking on more new
members. FDP leaders expressed pointed concerns over
Turkey's accession; Doering stated bluntly that "Turkey
does not belong in the EU."

"Women should use their heads, not cover them"
---------------------------------------------

6. The headscarf issue (reftel) -- the move to ban
headscarves on public teachers in the name of gender
equality and the neutrality of schools -- featured
prominently at the convention. The Baden-Wuerttemberg (B-W)
FDP passed a resolution at the convention supporting that
state's draft law to forbid the wearing of headscarves in
class (but allowing the use of Christian symbols), stating
that headscarves symbolize a sexist society in conflict with
the German constitution's guarantee of equal rights for men
and women. NOTE: the anti-headscarf resolution applies only
to Baden-Wuerttemberg, but was welcomed by national party
leaders. END NOTE.

7. FDP caucus chief Gerhardt endorsed the anti-headscarf
resolution, noting that "there is no right to cultural
authenticity if it means violating human rights and
oppressing women. Multi-cultural values do not apply in
this case." He quoted the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Iranian
lawyer and human rights activist Ms. Shirin Ebadi, that
"women should not cover their heads but rather use them."

COMMENT: FDP on the Rebound, but Long Road Ahead
--------------------------------------------- ----

8. Convention delegates gave Westerwelle an unexpectedly
strong reception, relieving some of the pressure on
Westerwelle to defend his leadership position. The FDP's
short-term goals are to re-enter the European Parliament
(after a ten-year absence) and to poll over the five percent
threshold in 2004 state and communal elections, but support
is wavering in traditional strongholds such as southwest
Germany and national polls show support for the FDP
stagnating at 6-7 percent. Despite having championed for
decades the type of reforms that all of Germany is now
talking about, the FDP has so far failed to package its
ideas in ways that will attract voters or otherwise
capitalize on the unpopular economic reform plans of the
Schroeder government. Reeling from the Moellemann affair
and the party's poor showing in the 2002 national elections
(for which Moellemann and Westerwelle received the principal
blame), the FDP seemed to have been caught flat-footed when
the economic reform debate began in earnest, and accordingly
did not do a good job in showcasing its own ideas for wide-
ranging reforms. Moreover, during the past several months a
number of senior FDP officials have taken to the Op-Ed pages
with articles harshly critical of Westerwelle's leadership
style and abilities. Westerwelle's successful performance
at recent conventions is a good first step in turning around
his and his party's fortunes, but the road ahead will be
long. END COMMENT.

BODDE

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