Two weeks from the legislative elections, Social Democrat (SPD) candidate Martin Schulz wants to close the gap on Chancellor Angela Merkel, focusing on Europe and the digital sector, which have been largely absent from the campaign so far. He spoke with EURACTIV’s partner Ouest-France.
Martin Schulz is the candidate for the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) facing Angela Merkel for the Chancellery. The now former MEP was elected president of the PSE Group in 2000 and was president of the European Parliament from 2012 to 2017.
He spoke with Ouest France’s Jochen Gaugele, Christian Kerl, Jörg Quoos and Sébastien Vannier.
The polls put Angela Merkel as the winner of Sunday’s televised debate. Has your last chance to become chancellor passed?
Not at all! Those who say that despise electors and voters. What is decisive is the result of the ballot, not the polling institutes. Many also claim: Schulz won the duel! In any case, I have won over the more undecided. And in the polls, I am clearly favoured by young people.
The CDU’s advantage over the SPD’s remains significant.
The CDU has only one programme: Angela Merkel. It is meaningless, with no plan, no idea for the future. I put forward my different projects: we have very good economic conditions in Germany, but vast problems of social justice. Germany can do better, I am deeply convinced of it. And my convictions are not tactical pretexts like Mrs Merkel’s.
In the televised debate, you did not talk about major themes of the future, such as the digital sector…
The central mission of social democracy is to transform technological progress into social progress. This was the case in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and in the twenty-first century. Every progress involves risks, but also huge chances. We must stop demonising the digital world. We should think of it as a new beginning. Jobs will disappear, but others will be created. The jobs of the future require that we give priority to education and training.
What does the internet mean to you? Is it “new ground”, as it is for Angela Merkel?
For me, it is certainly not new terrain, it is our daily life. Write on Messenger to the family, quickly read the information on the Internet. I have a much greater concern: we are lagging behind the Americans and the Chinese. At the technological level, Europe plays almost no role. The French were, until the 1980s, a nation of technologies: the first European satellite, telecommunications, the TGV, the Channel Tunnel. Major projects supported by the French presidents. Today, France is as much a technological laggard as is Germany. We are missing out on our future and Ms Merkel would like to be congratulated. When I think about it, it makes the few hairs that I have left stand on my head. If the Internet is a “new ground” for her, it is time for her to take time and discover it. Starting 25 September.
What future place will Poland have in the European Union?
Mr Kaczynski’s party is openly anti-European and anti-integration. This is to be differentiated from the majority of the Polish people, clearly pro-European. What is happening now in Poland is that a party led by Catholic fundamentalists leads the government against European principles. I support the conclusions of the Commission on the reform of justice in Poland. From now on, it will be necessary to see how the heads of state and government, and in particular Angela Merkel, will position themselves. Mr Macron said: “Europe is not a supermarket” where everyone gets what they want. You will not find such clear statements from the incumbent German chancellor.
The future of the EU has been widely discussed during the French campaign but not in Germany. Why ?
I regret very much that the European debate has not been more important here. I’m fighting for it to be a campaign topic. The political debate in Germany is very marked by the inaction of Angela Merkel. She had some wonderful statements, such as “I have great plans for Europe, but we will do that after the elections”. Which means in reality: you vote for me and everything will remain as today. Without vision, without reforms, without ambitions.
What do you think of Emmanuel Macron’s proposals for a budget and a eurozone minister?
I’m glad he took it and I agree with him. But the German chancellery has for the moment replied “No, no, no”. It is not acceptable for member states to compete on the basis of fiscal dumping within a common economic and monetary zone. We finance the economic development of territories in Eastern Europe through cohesion funds. Then French or German companies relocate to these regions because of lower tax rates. This debate about relocations has been much stronger in France than in Germany. It allowed Marine Le Pen to recruit voters.
France is reforming its Labour Code. Can it learn lessons from Germany?
We cannot compare different structures. The tradition of social partnership is not as strong in France as in Germany. The economic situation is not the same as that of Germany at the time when it was reformed. France now has positive growth, but this was not the case in Germany.
In Germany, France’s reforms are eagerly awaited…
I am not one of those who say they are waiting for reforms from France. It is rather a speech by Mrs Merkel or Mr Schäuble (Minister of Finance) who even says that others have to do their homework. In my memory, the duties were given by the professors. I am not the teacher of other nations. I believe that we must wait for the French to make the reforms that they themselves have defined.
What impression do you have of the first months of Emmanuel Macron?
It is too early to get an opinion. The challenge is to modernise the country, so that Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Mélenchon do not benefit. Mr Macron has to compromise. If he advances step by step and if he manages to mobilise a majority of the French permanently, then it will be the failure of the radicals. That is what I wish him with all my heart.