Cablegate: Fdp "Three Kings Day": Chief Westerwelle Defends Tax-Cuts

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1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Foreign Minister and Free Democratic Party (FDP)
national chair Guido Westerwelle defended the party's tax policy and
downplayed problems in the national coalition at the FDP's annual
leadership gathering in Stuttgart January 5-6, "Three Kings Day".
The event's highlight was the Westerwelle's keynote speech in which
he promised that the FDP would continue to honor its election
promises and asserted that the party intended to remain in power for
some time. Overall, the mood of the FDP delegates during the
conference was one of confidence and optimism. END SUMMARY.

"Spiritual and Political Change" Needed
2. (U) Westerwelle chose a call for "spiritual and political change"
as the central theme of his speech, a take on Helmut Kohl's 1984
famous refrain for a "spiritual and moral" change. Westerwelle's
depiction of "change" focused on adherence to free market principles.
He argued that Germany should remain a European and world leader,
becoming more self-confident, less afraid of the future, and better
prepared to handle competition from Asia. He repeated his mantra of
lifting the tax burden for Germany's "forgotten" middle class and
said that the FDP would continue to press for even more tax cuts. He
defended the VAT reduction for the German tourism industry, arguing
that 22 out of 27 EU countries have a reduced VAT tax, which
disadvantaged Germany's competitiveness. Westerwelle emphasized that
the FDP fought for ten years in the opposition to bring this new
sense of change to Germany and is not about to give up now.

3. (U) Christian Lindner, the new FDP General Secretary, further
developed Westerwelle's concepts in his own 30 minute address,
arguing that there was a fundamental "lack of fairness" in German
society brought on by the excessive German welfare state. Lindner
reasoned that the social system hindered those who would like to move
ahead in life and that the FDP would redefine the principals of
"social justice." Lindner said that climate change, renewable energy,
and educational reforms would be future focal points of the FDP.
Speaking without notes, Lindner gave a rousing speech and received a
long standing ovation, with Westerwelle later calling Lindner's
address "brilliant."

Little Mention of Coalition Troubles

4. (U) Westerwelle, Lindner, and Birgit Homburger, the FDP's
Bundestag caucus leader, all shied away from discussing troubles in
the CDU/CSU/FDP coalition government. Westerwelle and Homburger
repeated numerous times that, with regard to tax cuts, the FDP must
stick to its campaign promises. "This is the nicest kind of
criticism that a government party has to face. That it stands by its
campaign promises," Westerwelle said. Westerwelle further
complemented Chancellor Merkel, CDU/CSU floor leader Kauder, Finance
Minister Schaeuble and CSU chief Seehofer for sticking to the
coalition agreement and referred to any criticism of the tax cuts, as
merely "minor rumbling." Lindner specifically addressed the
criticism that the "FDP is not yet used to being in power." "If
getting used to governing means to defend the status quo or to
flatter lobbyists, we don't want to get used to it," he said.
Regarding the recent troubles with CDU member Erika Steinbach, whom
the FDP opposes being on the board of an organization for German
World War II expellees, Westerwelle remained silent.

5. (SBU) During private conversations with Consulate
representatives, FDP delegates similarly conveyed little direct
criticism of their coalition partners. Jan Rittaler, chairman of the
Baden-Wuerrtemberg FDP's economic council, said that current tensions
in Berlin were normal at the beginning of a new political
partnership. Heidirose Berroth, FDP member of the Baden-Wuerrtemberg
state parliament, found the recent troubles problematic, primarily
because she feared that a negative image of the federal coalition
government could affect the success of the FDP in the 2011
Baden-Wuerttemberg state election. Olaf Bentlage, Birgit Homburger's
Chief of Staff, levied only minor criticism, saying that the CDU had
yet to get used to its new partner. He further charged that many
"social democratic ideas" have rubbed off on the CDU over the last
four years, which was causing part of the problem.

Afghanistan and Security

6. (U) Security issues and privacy rights came up several times
during the conference, specifically the issue of so-called "naked

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scanners" in airports. Westerwelle himself criticized the broad
collection of data and any infringement of civil rights. He cited the
attempted Christmas Day attack in Detroit as an example that the
collection of data alone will not secure the lives of innocent
people. "Just to know everything about a normal citizen, does not
lead to increased security." On the first day of the conference, the
young FDP party members set up a mock "naked scanner" in the
building's lobby to critique its use. (Guests could take pictures of
their shadows through it.) Regarding Afghanistan, Westerwelle
welcomed that the international community had agreed on a broad
political agenda for the upcoming conference. He stressed that only
sending more troops was not enough, but rather that the Afghan people
must learn to take responsibility for their own security, which will
eventually lead to a withdrawal of troops.

7. COMMENT: (SBU) This year's "Three Kings" gathering was a
demonstration of self-confidence. After eleven years in opposition,
it was the first time for the FDP to be in the national governing
party. The speeches of FDP delegates repeatedly emphasized their
success nationally, on the state level in Baden-Wuerttemberg (where
they came within 1 percentage point of the Social Democratic Party's
returns), and even on the European level. Only through small comments
and the intonation in some private conversations was any indication
of stress within the national coalition government apparent. The FDP
remains committed to their ideology and political agenda, with all
speakers emphasizing their intention to not divert from their present
political course. END COMMENT.

8. (U) This cable has been coordinated with Embassy Berlin.


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