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Cablegate: Fears of Afghanistan Debate Emerge Months Before Nrw State

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1. (U) Summary: North Rhine-Westphalia Party leaders for the
governing Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Free Democratic
Party (FDP) coalition fear the issue of sending more troops to
Afghanistan could hurt their chances in the May 2010 state
elections if the opposition or the Left Party makes this an
issue in their campaigns. The opposition parties, the Social
Democratic Party (SPD) and the Greens, however, have yet to make
any noise about Afghanistan. The NRW Left Party aims to cross
the five percent threshold and enter the NRW Landtag and could
raise populist themes such as withdrawal from Afghanistan to
gain support. If the CDU-FDP loses its majority in NRW, this
would cost the national CDU-FDP governing coalition its majority
in the Bundesrat and would not bode well for the CDU and FDP in
other upcoming state elections. End Summary.

CDU: Hopes to Keep Focus on State Issues

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2. (SBU) Party leaders from the CDU, FDP, SPD and Greens all
discussed the upcoming May 9 NRW state parliament election,
their platforms and their chances for success in various
meetings with ConOffs on January 21. While all four sets of
party leaders agreed that education reform, employment, and
communal finances are priority issues for their constituents,
CDU Secretary-General Hendrik Wuest emphasized that Afghanistan
could be the deciding factor in the election if it became a
campaign issue. If the SPD, the Greens, and/or the Left Party
come out hard against increasing the German military deployment
in Afghanistan and call for an exit strategy, the results would
be "a catastrophe" for the governing CDU-FDP coalition, Wuest
stated. Because of that, Wuest said, the CDU is happy to
continue engaging the opposition on the economy and education,
with the clear implication that they do not want the SPD and
Greens to focus on anything else. Wuest believes strongly that
the CDU can win on these issues, but not on Afghanistan.
(COMMENT: Wuest may be overstating the issue, given more recent
developments in the SPD at the national level. During the SPD's
January 22 Conference on Afghanistan, SPD party leaders did not
rule out a troop increase and also acknowledged that their
previous distinction between combat troops and trainers does not
reflect the new partnering concept. END COMMENT.)

State Opposition Now Focusing on Local Themes


3. (SBU) SPD Deputy Floor Leader Ralf Jaeger did not bring up
Afghanistan as one of the SPD's three primary campaign issues,
but rather focused on education reform, job creation and fixing
NRW communal finances. When asked by Conoffs about the issue of
the deployment in Afghanistan, however, Jaeger said that the SPD
needs to be careful when considering future commitments by
Germany. The Greens had a similar election theme agenda as the
SPD, focusing on environmental, educational and economic issues,
and did not think Afghanistan would play a major issue in NRW.
The NRW SPD and Greens, however, may be hesitant to bring up
Afghanistan, since the German presence there was initiated under
an SPD-Greens national coalition government.

4. (SBU) The FDP leaders, NRW Interior Minister Ingo Wolf and
Landtag Vice-President Angela Freimuth, both expressed strong
skepticism about the ongoing mission in Afghanistan. They
agreed that if the opposition or Left Party turns the NRW
campaign into a referendum on Afghanistan, the CDU and FDP could
be in trouble. Both noted in particular the German public's
negative attitude toward the deployment in Afghanistan and
historically-grounded reluctance to favor military deployments
in general.



5. (SBU) The NRW state election is increasingly being referred
to as a "mini Bundestag election." It is the only local German
election in 2010, with the Bundesrat majority hanging in the
balance. As a result, national political leaders are likely
increasingly to involve themselves in the NRW campaign; local
party leaders have already told us they have more offers from

DUSSELDORF 00000004 002.3 OF 002

national figures than they can field. With such high profile
national attention, local leaders could risk losing control of
the direction of the debate. The CDU and FDP in NRW and on the
national level are clearly aware that there would be negative
results for them politically if Afghanistan becomes a major
theme closer to the election. At least on the national level,
these parties may seek closure on the issue of additional troops
to Afghanistan soon after the January 28 Afghanistan Conference
to avoid the risk of the issue being debated shortly before the
NRW elections. With the Left Party in NRW currently polling at
the five percent mark, they stand to gain the most from a debate
on Afghanistan. Left Party Chairman Oskar Lafontaine's decision
to leave national politics could distract the party for the time
being, but not for long. They sense how close they are to
entering the Landtag in this populous western state, and if the
party shows any signs of weakening in the NRW polls, it could
resort to tough tactics on Afghanistan to pull through. End

6. (U) This message was coordinated with Embassy Berlin.

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