Cablegate: Deflated Expectations for Merkel's Dream Coalition
DE RUEHRL #0153/01 0341656
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 031656Z FEB 10
FM AMEMBASSY BERLIN
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6467
INFO RUCNFRG/FRG COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
C O N F I D E N T I A L BERLIN 000153
E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/03/2020
TAGS: PGOV PREL EFIN ECON GM
SUBJECT: DEFLATED EXPECTATIONS FOR MERKEL'S DREAM COALITION
AFTER FIRST 100 DAYS
REF: 2009 BERLIN 1528
Classified By: Deputy Chief of Mission Greg Delawie for reasons 1.4 (b, d).
1. (C) Summary: One hundred days after Germany's black-yellow coalition took office, a strong, unified government led by Chancellor Merkel has yet to materialize. The much anticipated “dream coalition” comprised of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), its Bavarian sister the Christian Social Union (CSU), and Free Democratic Party (FDP) which promised a unified conservative approach to the economy and “like minded” thinking on social welfare, the environment, and foreign policy has become bogged down in party politics with no end in sight. Recent polls show that the bickering may be at least partly to blame for the FDP's 5.6 percent fall in the polls, with it now down to 9 percent from its historic 14.6 percent election results (see septel) and the CSU plummet to an historic low of 41 percent. Indeed one minister is now threatening resignation. Sources from the three coalition parties have admitted to problems, blaming the other coalition parties, and downplaying their significance. Merkel has come under criticism within her own party for not taking strong public stands and reining in her coalition partners, instead staying above the political fray. The opposition, particularly the Social Democratic Party (SPD), is trying to capitalize on this “divided we rule” coalition with an eye toward unseating a teetering CDU-FDP coalition in North-Rhine Westphalia (NRW) in May elections, thereby tipping the CDU-FDP Bundesrat majority in its favor. Merkel is counting on better economic and political indicators after the NRW election followed by the release of the annual tax forecasts to congeal the coalition. If the CDU/FDP coalition fails in NRW, coalition divisions are likely to become more pronounced. End Summary.
Off to a Rocky Start
2. (C) Concluding a coalition agreement in only three weeks, prior to her November 2 departure for Washington to address Congress and in time for the 9 November 20 year anniversary of German unity may have been Chancellor Merkel's first and only major success to date in marshaling coalition unity. But the feat may have had consequences. The haste to sign has left half-resolved differences on tax cuts, economic policy, Afghanistan, Turkey, health care, data protection (see reftel) and other issues that continue to gurgle to the surface. Important to recognize is that each party is operating under its own political pressures from different voting constituencies. The FDP's main goal is to deliver on campaign promises – particularly tax relief – and shore up its base, the CSU is desperate to regain its dominance in Bavaria, and the CDU is seeking to rebuild its eroded voter base. All three parties and the opposition are now gearing up for May 9 elections in NRW. This election in Germany's most populous state, referred to as a “small national election,” is regarded as a partial vote of confidence on the national coalition, and will determine the Bundesrat majority. If the NRW CDU-FDP coalition fails to return to government, the national CDU-FDP coalition will fall by six seats in the Bundesrat – from 37 to 31 seats – it will lose its majority. Such a loss could well hamper the government's ability to pass major financial or economic legislation.
3. (C) Each of the three coalition parties have pointed to the others for instigating tension. CDU party contact xxxxx accused the FDP of functioning as if it were still in the opposition. Senior SPD parliamentarian Hans-Ulrich Klose attributed the coalition strains to the FDP adjusting to being in government after 11 years in the opposition. FDP contact xxxxx accused the CDU/CSU of reacting to their own internal problems: for the CDU, its controversy over the Kunduz airstrike, and for the CSU, its involvement in a major bank scandal. The FDP also points to the CSU's strong rivalry with the FDP, with which it now governs in Bavaria. The CSU is still trying to recover from its historic low voting results in the September 2008 state elections, which forced it for the first time in 46 years to govern within a coalition. All parties, however, have downplayed the significance of the feuds, with senior CDU party operative xxxxx explaining in January that the party leaderships are just now settling in after an exhausting election campaign and intense coalition negotiations. He hoped (more than predicted) that the parties would soon settle into a more cooperative relationship. In January, Merkel called a small summit for coalition leadership with Westerwelle and Seehofer to smooth things over and commit to a new beginning. While the coalition's political edginess receded for a time, policy divisions continue to surface.
CDU/CSU vs FDP – the Economy
4. (C) While CDU/CSU and FDP voters may be the most likely to cross over to the other party, their mainstay voter bases are different, with the CDU/CSU appealing to economically conservative voters who also support the social market economy, but are socially conservative. The FDP base is composed of free-market advocates, who are socially liberal and strong advocates of civil liberties. The FDP's campaign and continuing mantra has been for much larger tax cuts in 2011, worth 20-24 billion euros, apparently at the expense of both coalition unity and the better judgment of economic experts. The cuts would make getting the deficit back under the EU ceiling of 3 percent of GDP by 2013 nearly impossible. National debt will rise from 66 percent of GDP to 80 percent. There are growing public concerns over rising debt, but also about perceived disarray in the coalition's tax and budget policies. Merkel insists that a decision regarding the tax reduction plans will not be taken before May, when the overall tax revenue forecast is due. Waiting until May also means the coalition will not have to go public with unpopular consolidation measures until after the NRW elections. Finance Minister Schaeuble (CDU) appears unenthusiastic at best about further tax cuts. He has already said deficit reduction measures would have to start in 2011. The CSU has also called the FDP's call for speedy tax relief measures “unrealistic” despite the fact that it had included such a demand during its election campaign. The most recent squabble between the FDP and CSU is over FDP Health Minister Roesler's plans for health care reform which foresees more care options and the introduction of competition. Seehofer has rejected the proposal, holding fast against radical changes to the system. Roesler has indicated he might resign over this issue.
5. (C) Coalition feuding over economic and tax policy has trumped coalition divisions over foreign policy, although FM Westerwelle has managed a few disruptions in the latter. As a harbinger of hard times to come, as one of his first actions, Westerwelle opposed the naming of CDU Bundestag member Erika Steinbach to the foundation “Flight Expulsion and Reconciliation” citing possible damage to relations with Poland. As President of Germany's Federation of Expellees, Steinbach is disliked in Poland. While the numbers are disputed, the expellee community, which mainly votes CSU or CDU, has exerted influence on the issue. National and State CDU and CSU politicians came out in support of Steinbach with only Merkel keeping mum. The controversy continues, despite ongoing attempts to reach a compromise, threatening to drain coalition attention and good-will.
6. (C) Coalition strains have also surfaced on the issue of overseas deployments. Regarding a troop increase in Afghanistan, Westerwelle's position was at first muddled, as he tried to reflect his party's general negativity toward overseas military deployments while at the same time tending to his role as Germany's chief diplomat in the run-up to the London Conference. In the end, he (together with the opposition) likely played a role in achieving a lower-than-expected troop increase. Westerwelle also convinced the CDU to agree on gradually reducing German participation in UNIFIL. The CSU also rocked the coalition boat on Afghanistan, with Seehofer expressing general skepticism on a troop increase, although he later came around. In addition, CSU Secretary General Dobrindt has ridiculed the federal government's reconciliation concept in Afghanistan as a “cash for clunkers version for the Taliban.”
7. (C) Chancellor Merkel may have ironically cast off the yoke of the Grand Coalition only now to be encumbered with a new FDP-CSU double yoke, restrained by an FDP bent on delivering on campaign promises and a CSU distracted over its rivalry with the FDP and internal problems. High expectations for the “dream coalition” are certainly in part to blame for the current polls, with popularity numbers for Merkel and Westerwelle both having suffered. Worried most, however, are the CDU and FDP politicians in NRW, who fear that the national coalition's squabbling could negatively impact their own chances in the May 9 elections. The leadership threesome – Merkel, Westerwelle, and Seehofer – may make an extra effort to get along, or at least appear to get along, as the NRW elections near. It is not clear that Westerwelle and the FDP, however, believe that it is the squabbling that is unhelpful, or rather its own inability to
deliver as yet on certain campaign promises. If it is the latter, more coalition tensions could ensue as Westerwelle begins to expend more energy as FDP Chairman and less as Foreign Minister, gearing up his party for its NRW campaign. Berlin is once again becoming bogged down in political squabbles as the NRW elections near.
8. (U) Consulate Munich contributed to this cable.