Cablegate: Protests Target Koch, Poor University Conditions

Published: Mon 5 Jan 2004 01:23 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
SUBJECT: Protests Target Koch, Poor University Conditions
REF: (A) Frankfurt 07786, (B) Frankfurt 9873
1. (SBU) SUMMARY: University strikes and protests in Hesse
during recent weeks continue to target Minister-President
Roland Koch (CDU). University leaders and students say
funding cuts and fee hikes violate prior agreements and
will endanger Hesse's leading position in science and
research. Protests against Koch's "Operation Safe Future"
(reftel) include universities, churches, trade unions and
even former coalition partner FDP (Free Democrats)
officials. The state government defends the cuts and shows
no signs of bending. While Hesse officials are
increasingly nervous, Koch appears to prefer
confrontational "wedge politics" to Germany's post-war
culture of consensus -- even within his own party. END
2. (U) In September, the Hesse government announced far-
reaching budget cuts (ref A), prompting university
presidents to openly criticize the government for breaking
the "university pact" signed after Koch came to power in
1999. That agreement mandated university reforms in
exchange for shielding higher education from budget cuts.
While universities enacted reforms, the 2004 Hesse budget
foresees a 1.9 percent cut in university funding. Former
Higher Education Minister Ruth Wagner (FDP) condemned the
cuts as a threat to Hesse's position as a center of
research and innovation. Tensions between government and
university leaders escalated this month when Koch
threatened to cut funding for Kassel University because its
president publicly supported the striking students.
3. (SBU) Students in Hesse have held weeks of protests
against M-P Koch, and university students remain on a
month-long strike. As in Berlin and other cities,
Frankfurt students are protesting decreased funding at a
time of peaking enrollment. Protests in Hesse culminated
in a rally December 13 at which virtually every banner
denounced Koch. Campus leaders oppose fees of 500-900
euros per semester on long-term students -- not the fees
per se, but the fact that revenues will go to reduce the
state deficit and not to universities. Students also say
the fees are unfair because poor funding keeps them in
school longer (many classes are oversubscribed).
4. (SBU) In recent weeks, Koch and Hesse Minister for
Higher Education Udo Corts have faced blockades,
disruptions, and protests at many events. The Koch
government is holding firm and defends the 1.9 percent cut
as small relative to other areas of government. Corts says
there are too many long-term students (ten percent are
enrolled for more than 16 semesters in undergraduate
programs). Frankfurt Goethe University student spokesman
Falk Hertfelder told us that students would end the strike
for the holiday season, but that "Koch won't have a minute
of peace in Frankfurt next year."
5. (SBU) The current wave of university protests/strikes is
not a 1968-style movement: students appear thus far to have
specific goals and a narrow political agenda. The protests
are focused on Koch's confrontational and autocratic
leadership style. Koch did not consult universities, NGO's
or churches before announcing program cuts, which the Hesse
CDU see as policy tools and not just ways to bring the
budget closer to balance.
6. (SBU) Koch dislikes consensus-style "appeasement
roundtables" and prefers to use the CDU's absolute majority
in Hesse to make and carry out decisions. This
confrontational approach has proven divisive (alienating
the FDP) and risky, as evidenced by Koch's poor showing in
the Hohmann affair (ref B). Despite the political fallout,
Koch views these as risks worth taking in his efforts to
streamline Hesse's extensive social system. END COMMENT.
7. (U) This message has been coordinated with Embassy
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