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Cablegate: Hesse Leader Koch Will Not Actively Seek

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

UNCLAS FRANKFURT 002778

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV ECON PINR PREL GM
SUBJECT: Hesse Leader Koch Will not Actively Seek
Chancellor Bid -- For Now

REF: 03 Frankfurt 9873

SUMMARY
-------

1. (SBU) At the Hesse CDU (Christian Democratic) convention
March 20, Hesse Minister-President Roland Koch announced
that he would not actively seek nomination as the party's
candidate for chancellor in the 2006 national elections.
Koch acknowledged Angela Merkel's "undisputed" leadership of
the CDU while indirectly criticizing her role in the
selection of presidential candidate Horst Koehler. Koch's
precisely formulated words left Berlin political pundits
unanimous in assessing that he will in fact leave the door
open to take advantage of possible future missteps on
Merkel's part. Convention delegates voiced anger at the CDU
leadership's handling of the Hohmann anti-Semitism affair
(reftel). END SUMMARY.

2. (U) At the March 20 Hesse CDU convention in Oberursel,
Hesse Minister-President and CDU chairman Roland Koch
announced he would not actively seek the nomination as CDU
chancellor candidate in 2006, adding that he considers party
chief Angela Merkel the "undisputed number one in the CDU."
Koch said he would focus on making Hesse a conservative
stronghold "on the order of Bavaria" and defending the CDU's
absolute majority in 2008 Hesse state elections. Koch
hinted he would be less vocal on national issues,
cautioning, however, that he "will not be reduced to silence
by anyone." Koch criticized the party's rejection of
Wolfgang Schaeuble for federal president (after Schaeuble
had been all but officially "anointed") as flawed and
unfair. Koch was re-elected as party chairman with over 95
percent of the vote. Although this result would please most
politicians, it reflects a slight decline in support over
the past two years (he received 98.9 percent at the CDU
convention in 2002).

3. (U) Koch laid out a conservative vision on cultural,
economic, and national security issues. He advocated
banning Islamic headscarves for civil servants and remarked
-- to loud applause -- that "we have a 2000-year Christian-
Jewish history, and we will not banish that from our
country." As an example of economic success, Koch cited
Hesse's record on privatization (for instance, as the first
German state to open a private jail) and pledged continued
support for the expansion of Frankfurt airport. He
criticized the Greens, who "would even agree to building a
nuclear power plant next to the airport, if that helped to
prevent the expansion." Koch also advocated a harder line
against terror after the Madrid bombings, including the use
of Bundeswehr units for anti-terrorist operations within
Germany.

4. (SBU) Convention delegates told us that few expected Koch
to challenge Merkel in 2006; most saw his national position
as weakened by recent "defeats" by Merkel, such as over the
Hohmann affair. Party activists remain angry at what they
perceive to be the national CDU's "unfair" targeting of the
Hesse CDU (and Koch, by extension) after Bundestag member
Martin Hohmann's controversial references to Jews as a
"guilty people" (reftel). Hesse CDU Youth (Junge Union)
chairman Peter Tauber put it bluntly: "Angela Merkel
deliberately used the case to damage Koch ... Merkel should
be careful what she does -- she is a politician who has
never won an election and the party will consider that when
selecting a challenger" to take on Chancellor Schroeder.

5. (SBU) COMMENT: Koch enjoys overwhelming support and
solidarity within the Hesse CDU. Moreover, Koch is young
(he just turned 46) and could still stage a leadership bid
should Merkel make any missteps. Indeed, press commentary
and our discussions with German political pundits suggest
that the prevailing view here is that Koch would
"reactivate" his pursuit of the candidacy should
circumstances so permit. CDU activists and Koch
acquaintances opine that his decision to lie low for now was
inevitable given growing acceptance of Merkel as the
putative challenger to Gerhard Schroeder. That could change
if Merkel stumbles. The next big test will be the election
of the federal president. While Merkel has been hailed by
some as a winner in the presidential selection infighting
thus far, her enemies could still create difficulties by
withholding support for CDU/CSU candidate Horst Koehler on
the first (and maybe second) ballot. END COMMENT.

BODDE

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