Cablegate: Saarland Spd Leaders Air Dirty Laundry, Embrace

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
SUBJECT: Saarland SPD Leaders Air Dirty Laundry, Embrace
Centrist Platform for Upcoming Elections

REF: a) 2003 Frankfurt 03946, b) 2003 Frankfurt 04964,

c) 2003 Frankfurt 005178


1. SUMMARY: In a nationally-publicized showdown, former
finance minister/Social Democratic (SPD) chairman Oskar
Lafontaine used the Saarland SPD's June 20 convention to
issue a blistering critique of Chancellor Schroeder's
national government and its Agenda 2010 reform program.
With national SPD chairman Franz Muentefering in attendance,
Lafontaine called for the SPD to return to its roots as a
working-class party and to abandon what he termed the
Schroeder government's "public relations campaign" of
reforms. Saar party chairman and lead candidate Heiko Maas
echoed Lafontaine's left-wing tenor but succeeded in passing
a moderate center-left platform for state elections this
September, when the party faces an uphill battle to unseat
Christian Democratic Minister-President Peter Mueller. END

2. On June 20, a Consulate representative attended the
SPD's final convention in Saarland before state elections in
September. The event featured state party chairman and
election standard-bearer Heiko Maas as well as former
Saarland Minister-President Oskar Lafontaine, a noted left-
wing activist within the party. National SPD chairman Franz
Muentefering attended the event in an effort to boost
visibility in the Saar SPD's state election campaign.

3. In his speech, Lafontaine railed against the SPD's
economic reform program. The former SPD chairman labeled
Agenda 2010 as a "public relations campaign," saying the
reality was wage cuts, longer work hours, and sharply
reduced social benefits. The usually moderate Heiko Maas
surprised political observers by underscoring Lafontaine's
remarks and warning that the national SPD's current policies
will cost the party the election in 2006. Maas called for
greater attention to economically vulnerable groups and a
rejection of reforms that widen the gap between rich and

4. Muentefering used his time at the podium to defend
Agenda 2010 and criticize Lafontaine for political dogmatism
and an inability to compromise. He stressed that the Social
Democrats should focus on achievable goals and not
unrealistic promises. In sharp contrast to the enthusiastic
responses given to Lafontaine and Maas, Muentefering's
remarks met with tepid applause, and the chairman left
clearly disappointed by the day's events.

5. In spite of Lafontaine's populist rhetoric, convention
delegates produced a centrist platform for the September
elections similar in some ways to the CDU platform issued
the same weekend. The SPD manifesto largely embraces the
incrementalist reforms of Agenda 2010 while criticizing the
Mueller government's performance in Saarland (particularly
on education). The manifesto criticizes the state's narrow
focus on the automotive sector, advocating more investment
in energy and life sciences.

6. COMMENT: An unapologetic left-wing true believer,
Lafontaine strikes an emotional chord with many SPD members
disappointed by painful reforms and the sluggish economy.
Saarland Social Democrats also worry that voter
dissatisfaction with the Schroeder government may overshadow
Saarland state issues like record debt and lagging education
reforms. Maas is trying to use Lafontaine's rhetoric to
distance himself from the unpopular national government
while fielding a centrist platform to appeal to moderate
swing voters. Saar Social Democrats' greatest obstacle,
however, is popular CDU Minister-President Peter Mueller,
who remains the clear favorite in September (reftels). END


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