Martin Schultz to Challenge Angela Merkel in German Election
Alex GORKA | 01.02.2017 | WORLD / Europe

Martin Schultz to Challenge Angela Merkel in German Election

Donald Trump has been knocked from the top of the headlines in Germany, with Martin Schulz replacing Sigmar Gabriel at the head of the Germany's Social Democrats (SPD). On January 29, the executive of SPD formally nominated former European Parliament President Martin Schulz to lead the party as successor to Gabriel, and run for the chancellery against conservative Angela Merkel in the federal election scheduled on September 24. The nomination is to be voted on at a special party conference in mid-March, with the candidacy of Schulz almost certain to be confirmed.

Gabriel officially took over on January 27 from Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a presidential candidate to be confirmed as German foreign minister on February 12.

The decision to nominate Schultz was seen as a sign that the SPD is serious about ending its role as a junior partner in the current right-left coalition. His candidacy has made the battle for Germany’s top job much more interesting. He can revitalize the SPD as a new face in domestic politics and offer the party an opportunity to emerge from the shadows of Merkel’s conservative alliance formed in 2013. Thanks to him, the party could restore its identity. His two decades in European politics make him a fresh political force, untouched by Berlin’s grand coalition politics.

Schulz calls for equitable tax rules, European solidarity on migrant issues, and a determined campaign against terrorism based on principles of open society and prevention. He vows to fight for greater equality, improved childcare and mitigation of «deep divisions» in Germany where «hard-working people» hold society together.

On immigration policy, he believes that refugees had the right to protection and the causes of flight must be tackled at source. The nominee has condemned Germany's far-right AfD. He has also slammed US President Donald Trump's clampdown on minorities as «intolerable».

Martin Schulz faces an uphill task if he is to topple the current chancellor. Latest polls put the SPD well behind the chancellor’s party. Current surveys show Merkel's conservatives drawing about 34 percent voter support, with the SPD on 23 percent, the AfD on 13 percent, and the Greens on 11 percent and the post-communist Left party on 10 percent. According to Deutsche Welle, one scenario is for a SPD/Greens/Left coalition, but at between 40 percent to 43 percent it would be insufficient to govern. Another scenario is a repeat of Merkel's right-left grand coalition.

A poll published in January, which asked Germans who they would choose if they could vote directly for a chancellor, put Schulz and Merkel neck and neck at 41 per cent.

But other polls say the chancellor has a significant lead. For instance, the latest ‘Deutschland Trend’ poll by ARD shows that the Christian Democrats are still well ahead with 37 per cent support. The Social Democrats trailing behind at 20 per cent support, according to the poll which asks how people would vote if the election was held today.

The anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) would become the third largest party in parliament with 13 percent of the vote, according to the poll conducted by Ipsos.

The Greens would win 11 percent, with the Left party seen winning 10 percent, a slight increase from previous polls.

The SPD hopes for a coalition with smaller parties on the left, but most analysts believe a right-left coalition is the most likely outcome of the election.

Angela Merkel has to show she realizes the fact that her migration policy was wrong. If not, Schultz may have a chance. Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, a member of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has said that Berlin had made mistakes with its open-door policy and was trying to learn from them. Besides, many people are tired of the Chancellor being in power for so long. They want new faces. The Social-Democrats’ nominee is a pugnacious fighter. There is a lot of campaigning left, and things can change. With the image of «man of the people», he knows how to win public support.

Schultz has worked in Brussels for many years. He is not responsible for the mistakes of refugee policy and other problems the country faces. This is an advantage. On the negative side – his pro-European stance makes him vulnerable to attacks from the anti-immigrant and anti-euro Alternative for Germany (AfD) which has made significant gains in the last two years, especially due to the refugee crisis.

Martin Schultz does not belong to the politicians who openly support Russia. He has not joined those who call for lifting or, at least, easing the sanctions. But he stands for dialogue between Moscow and Brussels and believes this dialogue should never be suspended.

Looks like it’s not Russia that he has in his sights. The first thing he did right after the SPD executive approved his nomination was attack Donald Trump.According to him, Donald Trump is attempting to break up the European Union maintaining close contacts with pro-Brexit politicians in the United Kingdom. «This is a policy of assaulting Europe, it is certainly not in Germany's interests», Schulz said.

It’s not the first attack against the US president. Last year, Mr. Schultz hit the headlines saying Donald Trump was «a problem for the whole world». He also said Trump was an «irresponsible show off». Regarding the migration policy, he believes that Europe should make clear to Trump that international human rights also apply to the President of the U.S. It’s easy to predict the US-German relationship will hardly gain if Mr. Schultz becomes a Chancellor.

As any candidate, he has strong and weak points. The mistakes committed by the current chancellor make her vulnerable. If Schultz deftly exploits the opponent’s weaknesses, he’ll be a hard nut for Angela Merkel to crack.