357. Memorandum From Secretary of State Rogers to President Nixon1

Evening Report

No-Confidence Motion Submitted Against Brandt—In the immediate wake of the provincial elections held in Baden-Wuerttemberg on April 23, the CDU/CSU opposition in the German Bundestag has submitted a motion for a constructive vote of noconfidence in Chancellor Brandt.2 The objective is to elect Rainer Barzel as Chancellor. The critical vote will take place on April 27. This is the first time in the history of the Federal Republic that such a vote has occurred.

The results in Baden-Wuerttemberg were not in themselves sufficient to undermine the Brandt Government. The FDP, Brandt’s small coalition partner, did better than expected and the SPD, itself, registered a small gain over its vote in Baden-Wuerttemberg in the last Federal elections. A CDU victory had been expected and discounted in advance. The size of the CDU victory—53% of the vote—was surprising, however, and since Eastern policy was the most prominent election issue, it has been interpreted by the CDU as a popular rejection of Brandt’s foreign policy. A second unexpected development was the resignation from the FDP on April 23 of one of its Bundestag representatives.3 He took this step because of dissatisfaction with the Government’s social policy and not because of its Eastern policy. As a result the Brandt coalition’s Bundestag strength was reduced to 249, the bare minimum needed for an absolute majority, without which the Eastern treaties cannot be approved.

This combination of circumstances has impelled the CDU/CSU to seize the moment to try and unseat Brandt. The vote of nonconfidence [Page 1011] will be based on the entire policy of the Brandt Government, with heavy stress on social and economic “failures.” If the move succeeds, however, and Brandt falls, his Eastern policy will be viewed as the decisive factor.

With the margin so small, it is impossible to predict whether the CDU move will succeed or fail. If Barzel is elected, it will be by a very small majority but he will have the advantage of a one-party administration rather than a coalition. The reaction in both Eastern and Western Europe will be negative at least initially. Ratification of the Eastern treaties and the coming into effect of the Berlin Agreement will be indefinitely delayed.4

T.L. Eliot Jr. 5
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 40, President’s Daily Briefs, April 18–29, 1972. Confidential. Eliot signed the memorandum for Rogers. Butterfield stamped the memorandum to indicate that the President had seen it.
  2. In telegram 5733 from Bonn, April 24, the Embassy reported that Barzel had given one of its officers advance warning on the decision to file a motion of noconfidence against Brandt. When asked about the likely outcome, Barzel expressed some uncertainty, since “no one could be absolutely sure what every deputy in every party, including the CDU would do in this situation.” “We doubt from his own words and our observations,” the Embassy commented, “that Barzel has commitments from more than two or three coalition deputies to vote for the CDU noconfidence motion, not enough to provide a reliable cushion if a few CDU deputies should decide to vote for the Brandt government in the ballot, which will be secret. Consequently, the outcome of the vote appears uncertain and likely to be close either way. If the CDU wins, it is doubtful that its majority will be large or the resultant government very stable.” (Ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 15 GER W)
  3. Wilhelm Helms.
  4. Kissinger also briefed Nixon on the noconfidence motion in a memorandum on April 25. “One positive outcome from the vote, regardless of which way it goes,” he concluded, “will be a clearing of the air on the treaties. If Brandt wins, his treaties will probably be ratified, for the CDU/CSU will hardly challenge him again. If Barzel wins, he will have overturned the government—at least formally—on an issue other than the treaties. Whether the Soviets, or the French and British for that matter, will look at it that way is another question.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 40, President’s Daily Briefs, April 18–29, 1972)
  5. Eliot signed for Rogers above Rogers’ typed signature.