Cablegate: Scenesetter for Minister-President Koch's Visit To

Published: Wed 7 May 2003 03:04 PM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
1. (SBU) Summary: Hesse Minister President and Hesse CDU
chairman Roland Koch will visit Washington for meetings with
senior USG officials on May 13-15. Koch is widely discussed
as a CDU Chancellor candidate in 2006 and is in competition
with CDU Chairperson Angela Merkel for influence in the
party. During his Washington visit, Koch will focus on
international affairs, the U.S.-German relationship,
potential U.S. military base closings in Germany, the
aftermath of the Iraq war, U.S.-EU issues, counter-terrorism
and security issues. Koch also has an interest in Asia,
particularly in increasing market access in China for German
companies, and in the Tibet issue. Koch's staff tells us
his main aim for the visit is to "promote transatlantic
partnership." End Summary.
A National Player and Possible Future Chancellor Candidate
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2. (SBU) Koch was re-elected with an absolute majority on
February 2, 2003, which strengthened his position in the CDU
nationally. Koch has frequently been discussed as a CDU
chancellor candidate in 2006 and is in competition with CDU
Chairman Angela Merkel and Bavarian Minister-President
Edmund Stoiber for influence in the party. Relations
between Koch and Merkel are seen as frosty, as Koch clearly
supported Stoiber over Merkel early on in the 2000 election
campaign. Koch is aggressive, confident, energetic and
ambitious. Following a major financing scandal in the Hesse
state CDU in 1999, he has generally done poorly in polls in
the area of personal integrity and credibility. That said,
he is a gifted public speaker, telegenic and knows how to
please a crowd on many issues. He has recently begun to
play down his polarizing image by seeking a more mediating
role in national politics. For example, he surprised many
observers by announcing a reform plan jointly with
Northrhine-Westphalia Minister President Peer Steinbrueck
(SPD) with an across the board ten percent cut in public
subsidies, though the initiative was heavily criticized from
within his own party.
Koch Interest in Economic Growth
3. (SBU) Koch has been active in the commercial and economic
development of Hesse. He has supported Frankfurt airport
expansion, new biotechnology centers, and enhanced
cooperation between universities and corporations on
research such as between the Opel auto plant in Ruesselsheim
and the Technical University of Darmstadt. He seeks to make
Frankfurt a more inviting destination for foreign investment
and has put forward welfare, social and labor market reform
proposals. Koch has also been a strong supporter of nuclear
energy and has improved the state's road infrastructure. In
light of deteriorating finances --Hesse slipped from being
the number one growth state in Germany to number six -- Koch
will want to speak with U.S. interlocutors about economic
growth incentives and stimulus packages.
Counter-Terrorism and Security
4. (SBU) Koch has been active on counter-terrorism issues
and encouraged good bilateral cooperation between law
enforcement agencies. (Note: The headquarters of the
Bundeskriminalamt -- BKA -- the FBI equivalent is in
Wiesbaden, Hesse's capital.) He has been active in
improving the police force in Hesse and in crime reduction
measures such as video surveillance of main shopping areas.
Koch was very supportive of enhanced police protection of
U.S. installations in Hesse after September 11 and has
spoken of the need for Germany to increase counter-measures
against bioterrorism, such as acquiring more smallpox
vaccine. He expressed interest in discussing counter-
terrorism policies in the U.S. and the role of the Office of
Homeland Security.
Koch and the U.S.
5. (SBU) Koch is an outspoken, pro-American politician. He
has been very supportive of the American Chamber of
Commerce, which has its headquarters in Frankfurt, and gave
AmCham President Fred Irwin the state's highest honor.
Before the Iraq war, he took a position that was supported
the U.S. position, despite some opposition within his own
party. Koch has also been consistently supportive of
American troops in Hesse, often hosting or appearing at
events honoring the U.S. military. Hesse has approximately
13,000 U.S. troops stationed mainly in Giessen, Friedberg,
Wiesbaden, Hanau, and Darmstadt. The U.S. military in Hesse
employs 2,544 Germans directly and an indeterminate number
indirectly. Koch has said he is unhappy about Round 30
closures in coming years (2005-2008), finds it a loss for
the U.S. German partnership and has expressed concern about
the hundreds of German jobs that will disappear. In an
article on May 2 in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Koch
especially regretted the reduction of the U.S. military
presence in Giessen, which already has a high rate of
unemployment. Koch has also stated in the past that he
understands and respects our decision and will not fight it,
but he finds the loss of contact between the U.S. military
population and German citizens in central Hesse to be
regrettable in a larger sense. Koch wants to discuss the
future of U.S. military basing with interlocutors in
Washington. He may also wish to discuss the role of Europe
in rebuilding Iraq.
6. (SBU) Koch also supported the U.S. Consulate Frankfurt's
acquiring of a property for the new Consulate building and
has boasted of the Consulate's future expansion in Hesse as
a positive story for the state. He is very candid in
meetings with U.S. officials and concerned about the
transatlantic relationship. After Schroeder's anti-U.S.
election stance in late 2000, Koch was vocal in describing
the shortsightedness of the Chancellor's statements and the
tremendous bilateral damage they had done. Generally, Koch
can be considered one of the best experts on U.S. society
and politics among German politicians and has a keen
interest in U.S. Congressional politics. Koch traveled to
the U.S. in 1996 to observe the presidential election
campaign and again in 1997 on the International Visitors
Program. He has also visited the U.S. numerous times
privately. Koch's English is excellent. He has not used
interpreters in past meetings with U.S. officials and is
comfortable addressing large groups in English.
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