354. Telegram From the Embassy in Germany to the Department of State1

5272. Subject: CDU Leader Barzel on Present German Political Situation.

Summary. In discussion April 14 with EmbOff, CDU Party Chairman Rainer Barzel indicated that he and other CDU leaders are feeling pressures from the public campaign on ratification of the treaties launched by the Brandt government over the past ten days with Soviet help. Barzel said the CDU lead in Baden-Wuerttemberg had decreased and that an SPD/FDP government was now a possibility although the odds still favored an absolute CDU majority. Barzel indicated that he had made up his mind fairly firmly to try to bring down the Brandt government on a constructive vote of non-confidence if the occasion presented itself. However, he considered it somewhat more probable that the treaties would be ratified by a one-vote margin and that the Brandt government would stay in power until the end of the electoral period in 1973. End summary.
Barzel said that the CDU lead in Baden-Wuerttemberg had been reduced in the last two weeks. Although he still considered a CDU absolute majority more probable for the first time there was a possibility that the SPD and FDP together could get enough votes to form a government. [Page 998] Barzel described the decrease in the CDU lead to the combined impact of the Soviet help for Brandt, including the passes for Berliners at Easter, and of the “fear and pressure campaign” being systematically waged by both the Soviets and the SPD against both the Baden-Wuerttemberg electorate and the CDU. During the last three weeks, a very large number of Soviet representatives of all kinds, diplomats, professors, journalists, and plain “visitors,” had called on nearly every leading CDU politician in the country, painting the blackest picture of the consequences for Germany if the Eastern treaties were rejected. Some of these Soviet emissaries had even used the term “hot war” in this connection. At present CDU deputies were under great pressure in their constituencies. A considerable number had been threatened with violence and kidnapping of their families. Barzel attributed this development to an organized Communist campaign. Under the present rules of the game, the CDU stood alone in the West in a contest with the Soviets without any help from anyone.
Barzel said, that he did not wish to advance a proposal on the matter, but that he believed that the fear and whispering campaign was making so much progress that it would leave a serious residue in German opinion if something were not done about it. It would be useful in this context if there could be a high-level American statement that US defense support of the Federal Republic would, of course, continue no matter the outcome of the domestic political decision process.
Barzel reviewed his April 12 discussion with Brandt and Scheel. Scheel had presented an overdramatized picture of the catastrophe which would befall the Federal Republic if the treaties were not ratified. As evidence that the political leaders of Germany’s allies shared this view, Scheel had cited only three persons: his liberal party friend, the Luxembourg Foreign Minister, Moro of Italy, and the Yugoslav Ambassador in Paris. Barzel said he had not been impressed by this recitation. Scheel had also hinted that a public US statement might still be in the offing to the effect that the USG did not wish its insistence on remaining outside the German parliamentary struggle of ratification to be mistaken for indifference towards the treaties or Brandt’s Eastern policy.
Barzel said that a similar rumor had followed Bahr’s recent visit to the US.2 He was grateful for the neutrality of the USG in this matter and assumed that it would continue.3 Barzel said the only new element [Page 999] in the talk with Brandt was that Brandt announced that some concessions on travel improvements might be forthcoming from the GDR.
EmbOff asked Barzel for his reaction to recent Soviet moves in support of the treaties, particularly the Gromyko statement concerning the Scheel letter on self-determination.4 Barzel said he had been visited by the Soviet intermediary V. Lednev on March 25. Lednev had asked Barzel to tell him what he really needed in order to change or moderate the CDU’s opposition on the treaties. Barzel had told him that what he wanted was a formal Soviet written reply to the Scheel letter. Lednev had promised to return in a few days to discuss the matter further but had not yet done so. Barzel believed that Gromyko’s action in presenting the Scheel letter to the Supreme Soviet was in response to the pressures brought to bear by the CDU. But this action did not go far enough.
Barzel said his recent trip to France had been much more pleasant than anticipated.5 He had received very friendly treatment from the French, perhaps because at that time the furor about change of governments in the FRG had been at its height. He had received a very strong impression from his talk with Pompidou that the latter was considerably more interested in successfully furthering French policy towards Western Europe than he was in the success of Brandt’s Eastern treaties. Perhaps Pompidou would like both, but he seemed to attach much greater importance to moving ahead on European policy, telling [Page 1000] Barzel that following the referendum6 France’s commitment to Europe would be total, that he intended to play a very active role in this development and hinting, according to Barzel, that he would welcome a more energetic German partner in this regard. Barzel said there was a distinct difference between the position on the ratification taken by the Foreign Minister Schumann who had told Kurt Birrenbach, Barzel’s advance envoy, that failure to ratify could be catastrophic, and the position taken by Pompidou.
Treaty ratification. Barzel said he expected the Brandt government to try to field 249 votes for treaty ratification in the May 4 Bundestag reading in order to demonstrate that it had an absolute majority at its command. The greater possibility was that this effort would succeed, but this was not certain. Barzel said he had specific information on a coalition deputy who had not yet come to the public attention who was seriously considering a change in his vote on patriotic grounds, although he had not yet made up his mind. Barzel did not identify the individual more closely. With regard to the Bundesrat vote on the treaties, Barzel said that it was out of the question that any CDU Land Minister-President would vote for the treaties. Barzel claimed that even if the CDU lost the Baden-Wuerttemberg elections, Minister-President Filbinger who according to the Baden-Wuerttemberg constitution need not leave office for a month or more, would nonetheless still cast the votes of Baden-Wuerttemberg against the treaties. (Comment: Although possible, we doubt that this would take place. It would on the one hand be a violation of strong local attachment to democratic principles and does not seem practically feasible because a decision on the Bundesrat vote presumably would be based on a decision of the CDU/SPD cabinet in Stuttgart, possibly giving the SPD an opportunity to dissolve the government beforehand if the CDU insists on opposing.)
Constructive vote of non-confidence. Barzel said he had decided during the last few days to try bring about a constructive vote of nonconfidence against Brandt even if the CDU were sure of only a onevote majority. This was a firm decision, at least under present circumstances. There was no reason why a majority of one vote was not good enough to establish a government committed to improving the Eastern treaties if one vote were considered good enough to ratify the treaties. Barzel said he believed he could continue to successfully govern with a one or two vote majority until the 1973 elections because he [Page 1001] would himself pose the confidence question on all important votes and a lot of deputies did not want to have elections before the scheduled time in 1973. Barzel said that he was now trying to find out whether he could collect the necessary votes for this action. If he did and the outcome in Baden-Wuerttemberg was positive for the CDU, the attempt would be made during the Bundestag debate on the budget for the Chancellor’s office in the week of April 23. Barzel told EmbOff he would try to inform him in advance if the decision was taken to try the nonconfidence vote. He reminded EmbOff, however, that at the beginning of the year he had forecast to him that the CDU would win an absolute majority in the Baden-Wuerttemberg elections and that Eastern treaties would scrape through the Bundestag. This still seemed the greater probability.
Comment: We agree with Barzel in his analysis. The latest estimates available to us make it appear that the CDU is falling off in Baden-Wuerttemberg, but most observers continue to forecast a slight absolute majority for the CDU, although if the present adverse trend continues, this evaluation may have to be revised. As Barzel complains, the numerous steps taken by the Soviets or East Germans in the last several weeks have cumulatively had effects on German opinion. These steps include a Soviet statement that controversial Russian language translations of key sections of the treaty on the inviolability of borders were identical in sense to the German language version; the Soviet treatment of the Scheel letter on self-determination; conclusion of a trade agreement with the Berlin clause; Brezhnev’s statements that the Soviets considered the European Community as a reality; Brezhnev’s statement of refusal to renegotiate the Eastern treaties with any German Government, a statement which undercuts the CDU position; Soviet agreement announced April 13 to permit 700 ethnic Germans to emigrate to the FRG from the USSR; and a statement that the FRG would assure consular protection for West Berliners in the USSR on lines at least roughly comparable to those followed with regard to permanent residents of the FRG.7 We would add to this list the Lednev visit of which Barzel speaks. Above all, the unilateral GDR travel easements at Easter have had a considerable effect on political opinion in the FRG and, according to sources from all three major parties, on public opinion in Baden-Wuerttemberg. The announcement two days ago that FDP Deputy Kienbaum who has been listed as a waiverer would [Page 1002] vote for the treaties has for the moment halted speculation on FDP defections. The FDP leadership itself now believes it will exceed the critical 5 percent hurdle in the Baden-Wuerttemberg elections and may get even over seven percent of the popular vote; this is not much, but more than earlier expected. Taken together, these factors have created more confidence among coalition leaders and have tended to place the CDU on the defensive at this point in time. Barzel’s decision to try to bring down the Brandt government even with a onevote majority, which he implied had the approval of his party Presidium, does not seem a sound one from the viewpoint of CDU party interests and illustrates that the CDU is becoming increasingly obstinate under what it feels is a telling public attack.
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 15 GER W. Secret; Exdis. Repeated to Bremen, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Munich, and Stuttgart. Sonnenfeldt briefly summarized the telegram in an April 19 memorandum to Kissinger. (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 687, Country Files, Europe, Germany (Bonn), Vol. XII)
  2. See footnote 3, Document 348.
  3. During a meeting in the Executive Office Building with Kissinger on April 15 at 1 p.m., Nixon mentioned the possibility of abandoning this neutrality if the Soviet Union failed to produce “concrete progress” on Vietnam. “I don’t know if the blockade [of Haiphong] is going to worry them,” Nixon commented, “but the German thing [will]. And it’s been a hell of a thing but I’ll sink that without question. We’ll just tell Barzel and the Russians now we’re against it. Do you agree?” Kissinger replied: “Right.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Conversation Between Nixon and Kissinger, April 15, 1972, 1:00–2:00 p.m., Executive Office Building, Conversation 329–42) Nixon reiterated this point in a meeting with Kissinger in the Oval Office 2 days later. “I’d be very tough [with Dobrynin],” Nixon suggested. “Cause I’d very much like to see Johann [Franz Josef] Strauss. I like the old fart.” Kissinger replied: “Right, right.” Kissinger laughed when Nixon then asked if he understood. Nixon persisted: “Don’t you think that’s the way we play it?” Kissinger: “Absolutely.” Nixon: “I think Dobrynin expects you to play that way.” (Ibid., Recording of Conversation Between Nixon and Kissinger, April 17, 1972, 8:59–9:24 a.m., Oval Office, Conversation 709–8) The editor transcribed the portion of the conversations printed here specifically for this volume.
  4. Gromyko reported on the ratification debate at a joint session of the foreign affairs committees from both houses of the Supreme Soviet on April 12. During his remarks, Gromyko acknowledged receipt on August 12, 1970, of the “Letter of German Unity” from Scheel, thereby implying its relevance to the Moscow Treaty. For a published account of the session, see Meissner, ed., Moskau–Bonn, Vol. 2, pp. 1453–1462. For an English translation of the letter, see Documents on Germany, 1944–1985, p. 1105.
  5. Barzel visited Paris March 21 and 22. For his published account of the visit, including extracts from a record of his discussion with Pompidou, see Barzel, Im Streit und umstritten, pp. 177–183.
  6. On March 16 Pompidou announced that a referendum would soon be held on the long standing proposal to include Great Britain in the European Economic Community. The referendum, which was held on April 23, resulted in French approval of British membership.
  7. Sonnenfeldt listed the Soviet carrots and sticks in his March 24 memorandum (Document 345) and in an April 13 memorandum to Kissinger. “All told,” he concluded, “the situation continues to argue strongly in favor of our keeping hands off for now.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 687, Country Files, Europe, Germany (Bonn), Vol. XII) Sonnenfeldt also submitted a similar status report in the memorandum cited in footnote 1 above.