Cablegate: Saarland's Popular Minister-President Peter

Published: Thu 10 Jul 2003 02:33 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: Saarland Minister-President Peter Mueller
represents the center-left membership of the Christian
Democratic Union (CDU). Known for his unorthodox,
provocative political style, he one of the most outspoken
CDU Minister-Presidents. He faces state elections in summer
2004 and currently has the lead in opinion polls. Mueller
plans to visit the U.S. in September 2003 and seeks to
expand U.S. investment in Saarland. End summary.
Unorthodox Conservative
2. (SBU) Saarland Minister-President Peter Mueller broke the
15-year reign of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in
Saarland in 1999 by winning an absolute majority for the
CDU. He was re-elected Saarland CDU state chairman in May
2003 with 99.5 percent of the vote and has become the most
popular Saarland politician since Oskar Lafontaine (the
former Minister-President and SPD national chairman who left
office in 1999). Mueller is outspoken and likes putting
forth unconventional ideas. Though he represents a small
state (population one million), he is one of the most vocal
of the CDU Minister-Presidents. He has several nicknames
including "black Peter" (a reference to a card game that
indicates "the one who gets all the blame.") This stems
from 1998, when Mueller was the first to call for Chancellor
Kohl's resignation and was accused of being disloyal, though
many in the party privately shared the same viewpoint.
3. (SBU) One of Mueller's closest aides, Joachim
Kiefaber, is the head of the Foreign Trade Division in
the Ministry of Economics and a former Free Democratic
Party (FDP) caucus member of the Saarland parliament, a
holdover from the former CDU-FDP coalition. He
describes Mueller as religious and socially minded,
noting Mueller's Social Democratic family and
upbringing, often reflected in his left-of-center CDU
policies. On economic policy, Mueller is a vigorous
advocate of new technologies and has pushed strongly for
structural change in the steel and coal industry in
Saarland. Another area which interests Mueller is
social reform and the Herzog Kommission, the CDU
counterpart to the Ruerup commission. Mueller tends to
be a mediator. This is reflected in his cabinet, with
its healthy mix of conservatives and centrists. His
bridge-building skills are reflected in the opinion
polls: 70 percent of Saarland's voters respect Mueller
as a leader.
4. (SBU) Mueller was a judge with an outstanding
reputation before entering politics. On legal issues,
Mueller is considered one of Germany's brightest minds.
Mueller does not back away from criticizing his own
party. In 1991 for example, he publicly demanded that
Chancellor Kohl step down because of a broken promise on
taxes. In 2002, Mueller admitted that the CDU's outrage
in the Bundesrat after the immigration bill vote that
approved the law (but which was ultimately overturned by
the Federal Constitutional Court) was staged. The press
speculated as to why he "unmasked" his CDU colleagues,
particularly Hesse Minister-President Roland Koch. His
staff told us that Mueller's decision reflected both his
satiric humor and general frustration with political
gamesmanship on the immigration issue, which he feels
strongly about. Mueller's own views on immigration
reform are, in fact, not far distant from many of the
points in the government's proposals.
5. (SBU) Mueller's unorthodox style is reflected in his
dislike of hierarchy. He is often seen in the corridors of
the Chancellery visiting his staff, in contrast to his two
more formal predecessors. Many on Mueller's team come from
the CDU's youth wing. He was the first Minister-President
to introduce paperless cabinet meetings. Everyone in his
cabinet must take computer training and carries a laptop.
In decision making, Mueller likes the motto, "exactness
before quickness." Despite this, contacts say that he tends
to change his opinion suddenly.
6. (SBU) Mueller became a national figure when he assumed
chairmanship of the CDU immigration commission in 2000. He
had a personal and legal interest in the subject, not least
due to the fact that Saarland shares borders with France and
Luxembourg. He essentially agreed with Interior Minister
Otto Schily on a draft immigration bill. Mueller blames the
Green Party for blocking a compromise, but FDP contacts
close to Mueller say that he was under enormous pressure by
the CDU presidium and finally caved in. Mueller's aide
Kiefaber said, "With his backing down on the immigration
issue, Mueller made one change of direction too many.
Another will cause him lost credibility and thus diminish
his influence in the national CDU." Mueller's close
relationship with CDU Chairperson Angela Merkel was also
seriously damaged by his backing of Stoiber. Mueller said
that he had had a one-on-one meeting with Merkel beforehand
to explain his reasoning, but Merkel leaked it to the press,
making him appear disloyal. Since then, the relationship
has been cool.
Pro-American, Friend of France, Seeks to Expand U.S.
Investment in Saarland
--------------------------------------------- ------
7. (SBU) Mueller has a strong interest in foreign policy.
This year he became representative in the Bundesrat for
German-French cultural affairs, an important political
position based on the Elysee Treaty. A good relationship
with France is the cornerstone of Mueller's foreign policy.
Mueller also seeks closer contact with neighbors Luxembourg
and Belgium. Mueller is generally pro-American, but on the
Iraq issue he sympathized with the French position and
criticized the U.S. for allegedly disregarding international
law. Mueller hopes to expand Saarland-U.S. relations and
U.S. investment in Saarland and will visit the U.S.
(Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania) in September 2003.
Facing State Elections in Summer 2004
8. (SBU) Mueller faces his first test at the polling booth
as Minister-President in summer 2004. Despite a clear lead
in the opinion polls (the CDU has between 48 and 50 percent)
the SPD has a realistic chance to win back Saarland for the
SPD, especially if the Green Party makes it over the five
percent threshold into state parliament. If the SPD gains
in strength sufficiently to win back the reins of power, the
composition of the Bundesrat, Germany's second house of
parliament would change (although not significantly enough
to overturn the current CDU/CSU-FDP majority). Mueller and
his staff do not believe that Oskar Lafontaine will run for
office in Saarland again. Mueller's assistant Rabel said:
"Election campaigning is hard work. Lafontaine is not up
for it." Mueller will campaign with the themes of
Saarland's success: high growth, low unemployment, effective
restructuring of the steel industry. The opposition will
point to Saarland's large deficit and the fact that much of
the reduction in unemployment can be attributed to
demographic factors.
Other Biographic Information
9. (U) Born l955 in Illingen, Saarland, Peter Mueller
studied law and political science and was appointed
judge at the Saarbruecken State Court in 1986. In l990,
he was elected into the Saarbruecken State Parliament
(Landtag) and served as the CDU caucus' parliamentary
manager until l994. Mueller went to the U.S. on an
International Visitor Program in 1992. He became
Saarland CDU party chairman in the summer of l995,
succeeding former National Minister Klaus Toepfer, his
mentor. In September 1999, he was elected Minister-
President, winning unexpectedly by a small margin. (Due
to the absence of smaller parties in the Landtag the CDU
achieved an absolute majority.) Mueller ended 15 years
of SPD rule in Saarland, succeeding Minister-President
Reinhard Klimmt (SPD). Mueller spoke out early in favor
of a new immigration law. In 2000, he took over the
chairmanship of the CDU immigration commission, a
position of national prominence.
10. (SBU) Popular Minister-President Mueller seems
omnipresent in the small state of Saarland: his role as
"state father" suits him. Though an academic and a judge,
he maintains contact with the man in the street. Mueller
seeks to make his party "the CSU of Saarland" reaching far
into the centrist electorate. The Saarland CDU is indeed
much more like the CSU in Bavaria, with no natural
connections to the liberal FDP and a good relationship with
the trade unions. If Mueller strengthens the CDU in
Saarland in the 2004 elections, his position in the national
CDU will also grow. Mueller will continue to play an
important role in CDU and is one of few visibly representing
its center-left membership. End comment.
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