November 24, 2016
Martin Schulz will go to Berlin
The big news in Germany this morning has been the decision by Martin Schulz not to seek a renewed term as president of the European Parliament, and to move to Berlin early in the New Year. The story was reported by Süddeutsche Zeitung, and confirmed by German TV, which reported that Schulz had told them of his decision. He is due to make a statement this morning.
Both news reports are cagey about what Schulz will do. In fact, they contain no hard information at all. What we can say with a high degree of confidence is that Schulz will become foreign minister, to succeed Frank-Walter Steinmeier who is the grand coalitions' official candidate for the German presidency, due to be elected on February 12. The SPD simply has no alternative candidate. We also know that Schulz wants to become the SPD's candidate for chancellor. It is up to Sigmar Gabriel to decide whether he wants to have a go at the candidacy, but Schulz is likely to be the more effective candidate - though he will have a tough time surpassing the CDU/CSU. The latest polls have the gap between the two parties at between 9 and 13 percentage points, but that gap could be reduced with a fresh candidate, especially somebody who is not soiled by German domestic politics. We also recall that Gerhard Schröder fought the 2002 and 2005 elections from a similar starting position relative to the CDU, and managed to win on the first occasion and lose only narrowly on the second. While the CDU/CSU has no alternative to Merkel, there is also disillusionment with her inside the party. A Schulz candidacy would introduce a new dynamic, and create new narratives.
The trouble is that Schulz also wants to become SPD chairman. As Helmut Schmidt and Gerhard Schröder discovered, the job of chancellor and SPD chairman naturally go together. There are no signs, however, that Gabriel is willing to give up the chairmanship of the SPD. Gabriel and Schulz are personal friends - as much one can say this about professional politicians. As SPD chairman, Gabriel has the first right of refusal. We would not be surprised if he allowed Schulz to take on Merkel. But we are not sure whether or how the two will resolve the conflict about the SPD chairmanship. One option is to postpone a decision until after the elections.