Cablegate: Anatomy of a Crisis: Expulsion Proceedings Vs. Clement

DE RUEHDF #0035/01 2211422
R 081422Z AUG 08



E.O. 12958: N/A

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1. (SBU) Summary: The controversy in the SPD that has dominated
Germany's domestic political news since the North
Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) party decided on July 30 to expel ex-NRW
Minister President and Federal Economics Minister Wolfgang
Clement has abated somewhat after he issued something of an
apology on August 7, but not enough to end the matter. This
affair is both symptomatic of and an aggravating factor in the
SPD's current crisis, both in NRW and nationally. At its center
remain hot-button issues ranging from energy policy to Agenda
2010 to cooperation with the Left Party. While national SPD
leaders engage in a major political damage limitation exercise,
Clement appealed the decision to the national level, which will
reportedly not hear the case until September, ensuring that
debate over party policy and direction will continue. NRW State
Chair Hannelore Kraft and National Chair Kurt Beck have been
weakened, as both were late to recognize the damage this
local/regional affair would have on the party as a whole. End

Op-Ed Piece Causes Uproar, Triggers Expulsion Request
--------------------------------------------- -------------

2. (U) The Clement affair began with a January 20 op-ed piece
for "Welt am Sonntag," followed by a statement on a TV talk show
on January 23, when the former NRW MP and Federal
"Superminister" during the Schroeder government criticized
Hessian state chair Andrea Ypsilanti for rejecting nuclear as
well as coal-fired power plants and urged voters not to support
her in the January 27 state elections. This caused an outcry in
the NRW SPD and beyond that he had "stabbed the party in the
back," along with calls for his expulsion from SPD left wingers
who opposed his strong support for the unpopular Agenda 2010.
These activists saw this as a chance to rid the party of one of
its more outspoken Hartz IV labor market reformers. Clement
(68), who over his 25-year political career held many of the
most senior posts in NRW and nationally (National SPD spokesman,
National SPD Vice Chairman, Chief of the NRW State Chancellery,
and NRW Minister President, as well as Federal Economics and
Labor Minister), has for years been one of the party's most
pro-business leaders. In 2007, two years after leaving the
Schroeder government, he joined the supervisory board of
Essen-based RWE Power, which operates nuclear and coal-fired
power plants throughout Germany.

Affair Simmers, for Months

3. (U) As Clement had joined the SPD in the Ruhr city of Bochum
almost 40 years ago and is still a card-carrying member in a
local SPD chapter (although he has long lived in Bonn), the
party there initiated proceedings to expel him, on the grounds
that he had damaged party interests and violated inner-party
solidarity. Other chapters joined the petition, including the
Frankfurt SPD sub-district, where Ypsilanti lives. The affair
simmered for months at the local level, without making national
headlines. On April 23, a local arbitration commission rejected
the expulsion request and issued a reprimand instead. Both
Clement and the petitioners appealed this decision with the SPD
state arbitration board in Duesseldorf, which on July 12 heard
the case, with Clement and ex-Interior Minister Otto Schily as
his legal counsel. Clement then said he would reconcile himself
to a reprimand, but when the panel requested assurances that he
cease making similar statements as in the Ypsilanti case in the
future, he declined.

State and National Party Leadership Taken by Surprise
--------------------------------------------- -----------

4. (U) Clement's refusal prompted the NRW SPD Arbitration
Commission's July 30 expulsion decision, which came as a
complete surprise, both to the NRW and the national SPD
leadership, both of which expected the reprimand to stand.
Obviously shaken Kraft explained on July 31 that the NRW SPD
governing board had intentionally stayed out of the case lest it
increase attention to it (although party statutes allow leaders
to participate, even if the Arbitration Board is autonomous in
its final decision). It took more than 36 hours before national
SPD leaders reacted to this explosive development in NRW that
shattered hopes of getting through the summer lull without
negative headlines. After a vague statement by Secretary
General Hubertus Heil, it took SPD national Vice Chair (and
likely 2009 SPD Chancellor candidate) Frank-Walter Steinmeier to
address the case on August 1 in "Spiegel," calling it "not
encouraging, but luckily not the last word in this affair" and
defending Clement as an "out-of-the-box thinker" with great
merits for the party who should not be forced to leave it.

A Divided Party and a Slow and Weak Reaction by its Chairman
--------------------------------------------- --------------

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5. (U) Since then, two major camps have emerged in the SPD,
with Steinmeier's support for Clement followed by other party
leaders, notably national Vice Chair and Finance Minister Peer
Steinbrueck, his predecessor Hans Eichel, former national chair
Franz Muentefering and Hans-Jochen Vogel, SPD Bundestag floor
leader Peter Struck, numerous SPD Bundestag deputies, and
others. Clement's opponents on the party's left wing include
lesser known but vocal figures, including Bjoern Boehning,
Schleswig-Holstein state chair Ralf Stegner, NRW deputy state
chair Jochen Ott, and Bundestag backbenchers deputies Pronold,
Tauss and Scheer (also a member of Ypsilanti's shadow cabinet),
and the former chairman of the SPD's Basic Values Commission
Erhard Eppler. Since then, German media have been filled with
debate between these wings at all levels, not only on how to
treat Clement, but also on larger issues of party identity and

6. (U) It took Beck until late August 2 to take a public
stance, with "Focus" newsweekly reporting that he had even asked
colleagues to refrain from comment so as not to aggravate the
situation. This strategy quickly failed and his first public
statement called for calm, commenting that although no one could
claim special rights, Clement's lifetime achievements for the
party had to be taken into account. Beck proposed that the
party national executive committee join the proceedings against
Clement as a third party. Since then, Beck has repeatedly
denied that the debate is about policy and strategy, insisting
that it is only about how to deal with Clement's breach of party
discipline, despite the fact that the conflict has long since
expanded to such issues.

7. (U) Beck's proposal was unanimously adopted on August 4,
with Secretary General Heil charged with representing the
leadership in the proceedings to ensure that the overall
interests of the party are properly taken into account. On the
same day, several NRW newspapers published a letter to Beck by
the five local chapters from Bochum, in which they declared that
they were retracting their request for Clement's expulsion under
the proviso that he accept a reprimand for his conduct and
declare that he would refrain from similar actions in the
future. Clement again rejected this compromise proposal,
prompting widespread charges that his stubbornness was damaging
the party. The national arbitration board will reportedly meet
in September to consider the case and make a final decision.
(Note: Theoretically, it has 6 months to do so. End Note.)

Clement Conciliatory

8. (U) After Clement for weeks refused to budge in his
opposition to Ypsilanti and the Hessian SPD, he struck
conciliatory tones at an August 7 press conference. Regretting
"if through the timing of my comments Hessian party colleagues
felt left in the lurch," he apologized for "possibly having hurt
their feelings." He emphasized that his comments were meant to
point out the importance of energy security and denied that he
had made an appeal not to vote for the SPD. He said he would
accept the national arbitration panel's decision and wanted to
remain a member of the SPD. This new flexibility is reportedly
due to the influence of Steinbrueck, Clement's personal friend
and neighbor in Bonn, who succeeded him as NRW Minister
President in 2002. Clement has indirectly confirmed this,
saying that persons close to him had advised him to hold the
press conference. Beck and other party leaders welcomed
Clement's declaration as "a good signal."


9. (SBU) The Clement affair -- and the slow and indecisive
manner in which SPD leaders in Duesseldorf and Berlin have
handled it -- is the latest example of the crisis in the SPD
(record low voter support projections, declining membership,
questions about Beck's leadership and the party's commitment to
the Agenda 2010 reforms, unresolved issue of how to deal with
the Left Party). The intra-party strife that emerged has only
aggravated matters. Clement's conciliatory tone has defused the
issue somewhat, but the underlying policy differences are not
resolved. Whatever the Arbitration Commission decides, both NRW
State Chair Hannelore Kraft and national chairman Kurt Beck have
been weakened, as both were late in recognizing the damaging
effects this originally local and regional affair would have on
the party as a whole. An ARD-TV/Die Welt poll confirmed these
observations on August 8, with 76 percent of Germans rejecting
the idea of expelling Clement and only 16 percent considering
such a step correct, and 47 percent of Germans believing the
Clement affair has damaged the SPD's reputation. The SPD
therefore enters the last 12 months before the Bundestag
elections next fall weakened, although it is early to speculate
what effect this will have on the party's election chances.

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10. (U) This message has been coordinated with Embassy Berlin.

© Scoop Media

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