Cablegate: Why Beck Stayed Home

DE RUEHFT #4996 3270635
R 230635Z NOV 07




E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Why Beck Stayed Home

Sensitive but unclassified; not for internet distribution.

REF: a) 07 Berlin 2060, b) 07 Frankfurt 3223

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Social Democratic Party (SPD) Chairman Kurt Beck
has decided against taking the Vice Chancellorship left open by
Labor Minister Franz Muentefering's surprise resignation (ref A).
Beck will continue instead as Minister-President of the state of
Rheinland-Pfalz (R-P). In the view of observers in R-P, Beck's
decision will allow him to deal with the current state party
leadership crisis. It may also put him a stronger position to
campaign for the Chancellorship in 2009, since he will be insulated
from the vicissitudes of coalition politics in Berlin. END SUMMARY.

Beck Stays outside the Grand Coalition

2. (SBU) SPD Party Chairperson and Rheinland-Pfalz (R-P) Minister
President Kurt Beck decided not to take a cabinet position in Berlin
following the November 13 resignation of SPD Labor Minister and Vice
Chancellor Franz Muentefering. SPD contacts point to strategic
advantages inherent in Beck's decision to remain in Rheinland-Pfalz.
As Minister President, he is outside of -- and independent from --
the Grand Coalition federal government and does not always have to
express his support for decisions taken by the federal cabinet. His
immediate co-workers at the R-P State Chancellery also told Pol
Specialist that Beck is used to being in a leadership role as
Minister President, and would find it hard to be in a subordinate
role under Chancellor Angela Merkel.

3. (SBU) Opposition figures predictably criticized Beck for not
taking up federal office. R-P CDU leader Christian Baldauf attacked
Beck for being "overburdened" with his double duties as SPD leader
and Minister President. Hesse Minister President Roland Koch (CDU)
told a local paper: "It is impossible to influence politics as an
outsider. This decisQn reflects a lack of courage to take on
responsibility." At the state convention of the Baden-Wuerttemberg
CDU in Freiburg November 17, Bundestag members Thomas Bareiss and
Gunther Krichbaum told Pol Specialist that they expect tensions
within the Grand Coalition to increase, since Muentefering was
always a reliable partner for Merkel.

Repairing Damage at Home

4. (SBU) Another reason for Beck's decision, according to Post
contacts, is the crisis in his own state cabinet. Deputy Minister
President (and Interior Minister) Karl Peter Bruch is accused of
awarding a public relations campaign contract to a company owned by
his son-in-law. Bruch was a likely successor to Beck as Minister
President and one of his only close confidantes. Justice Minister
Georg Bamberger is also facing criticism for allegedly violating
hiring regulations in filling a position at the Higher Regional
Court in Koblenz.

5. (SBU) Contacts in the R-P State Chancellery told Pol Specialist
that there was significant relief there over Beck's decision. The
attacks on two cabinet members have damaged the image of the SPD
government in R-P, which relies heavily on Beck's popular persona.
An SPD caucus member told a local paper: "If Beck leaves now,
everything will collapse." (Comment: While some contacts in R-P
speculate that Beck might lack the ambition to go to Berlin or be
undecided whether or not to be the party's chancellor candidate in
2009, his consolidation of power within the SPD and his performance
at the October Hamburg national party convention seem to indicate
the opposite. End comment.)

6. (SBU) R-P SPD contacts told Pol Specialist they expect Bruch to
step down in early 2008 to avoid further damage to Beck and the SPD.
The loss of such a close advisor would be a blow to Beck, who does
not have an inner circle of supporters he could rely on if he were
to assume federal office. Beck also now needs to rethink his
succession plan in R-P, with no clear candidate in sight.

7. (SBU) COMMENT: While SPD contacts unanimously welcomed Beck's
decision and saw it as a move that could strengthen his candidacy
for the Chancellorship, some observers speculate that it may have
drawbacks in the long run. One local paper contrasted him with
former Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who left the Rheinland-Pfalz State
Chancellery to become the CDU opposition leader in the federal
parliament. By deciding to remain in Rheinland-Pfalz, Beck may
retain more independence, but at the cost of reducing his
opportunities to reach out to a broader national audience. END

8. This cable was coordinated with Embassy Berlin.

© Scoop Media

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