Former European Parliament President Martin Schulz slammed Donald Trump for planning to build a wall at the US-Mexico border and supporting torture during a speech today (29 January) after Social Democratic Party leaders endorsed him as their candidate to take on Angela Merkel.
“I’m sure when European politicians travel to Washington they will explain to the US government that international law and human rights also apply for Donald Trump,” Schulz said.
The Social Democrat’s comments seemed pointed at British Prime Minister Theresa May, who has come under fire for her refusal to publicly condemn President Trump’s order to prevent immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries, including Syria, from entering the United States for at least 90 days.
May visited Trump in Washington last Thursday and Friday to lay the groundwork for a US-UK trade agreement. She said through a spokesman early Sunday morning that she does not agree with the order Trump signed into law one day before.
Trump’s ban on immigrants and US visa-holders took effect immediately on Saturday (28 January) and caused havoc as police and airport staff detained citizens from countries affected by the new rule who were on their way to the United States. The presidential order affects Syrians, Iranians, Iraqis, Sudanese, Libyans, Yemenis and Somalians.
Angela Merkel’s spokesman condemned Trump’s order shortly before Schulz took the podium in Berlin. Merkel will face off against Schulz in the German chancellor elections scheduled to take place on 24 September.
Schulz, who stepped down as European Parliament president earlier this month to run for a seat in the German Bundestag, was tipped to become the Social Democrats’ (SPD) chancellor candidate last Tuesday (24 January) in a surprise decision by the party’s leaders.
Schulz will also replace Sigmar Gabriel as SPD chair, pending a vote at the party’s national congress on 19 March. The 61-year-old MEP’s approval ratings have eclipsed Gabriel’s since last autumn. Gabriel considered his own run for the chancellory but decided not to run and was instead named Germany’s new foreign minister on Friday.
Gabriel described Schulz as “a German European and a great European German” in remarks before Schulz took the stage today.
In his hour-long speech, Schulz laid out his campaign platform, which he promised will focus on fighting right-wing extremist parties, pushing for other European countries to take in their share of refugees and securing fair working conditions for Germans.
Schulz did not mention Merkel once by name, but referenced the “daily humiliation” of internal fights splitting her centre-right Christian Democrat Party. She announced in November that she will seek a fourth term as chancellor. Merkel approval ratings have remained high, despite criticism from within her party over her refugee policies.
But Schulz has gotten a bump in support as well: he and Merkel were neck and neck at an approval rating of 41%, according to a poll conducted by public broadcaster ARD one day after the SPD announced his candidacy.
The SPD candidate did lash out at Merkel’s conservative finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble for promising lower taxes earlier this month, after announcing a €6.2 billion federal budget surplus from 2016.
“We all know that the rich will profit from that,” Schulz said, promising instead to tackle tax evasion and appoint a Social Democrat to replace Schäuble as finance minister.
Schulz also criticised Merkel’s centre-right Bavarian sister party (CSU) for supporting Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who has rejected EU plans to share the number of refugees between member countries. Orbán and Merkel are both members of the centre-right EPP (European People’s Party) political group.
Germany should consider cutting EU funds for countries that say “‘Yes please’ to financing agricultural funds or structural funds but ‘no, thank you’ to solidarity with people who have fled,” Schulz said.
Schulz was elected as an MEP in 1994 after serving as mayor of Würselen, a small city near Aachen, for eleven years. He became Parliament president in 2012 in a power-sharing agreement with the EPP.
During his time as head of the Parliament, Schulz advocated for MEPs to have more power in EU policymaking—he most recently pushed for the house to take on a bigger role in approving the UK divorce deal for leaving the EU.
Schulz has been rumoured as a possible Merkel challenger for several years, although critics suggested he would be a weak candidate compared to national politicians who are better known among German voters.
He attempted to defuse those concerns today by telling the Berlin audience that his years as mayor of a small city taught him how local politics works. He also said he will use his experience in Brussels to make Europe “more efficient, closer to the citizens, more social within this society and between countries”.
“I know what’s going on in Europe. I know the strengths and also weaknesses of the European Union,” he told the audience.
“European politics is German domestic politics and German domestic politics has a powerful effect in Europe. Whoever wants to play those against each other is committing a sin against the future of our children and generations to come,” Schulz said.
The SPD candidate promised to continue fighting against right-wing populist groups, telling Social Democrat supporters that he confronted those parties’ racist, Eurosceptic arguments “daily” during his time as European Parliament president.
Leaders from the right-wing party ‘Alternative for Germany’ met last weekend in Koblenz with top politicians from Marine Le Pen’s National Front, Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party and the Italian Northern League.
Alternative for Germany has won seats in ten out of Germany’s 16 regional parliaments, but is not yet represented in the Bundestag. A Spiegel poll earlier this month indicated that might change in September: 13.3% of people polled said they would vote for the party, making it Germany’s third strongest behind the CDU and SPD.
“We already had a party with this kind of aggressive nationalism in our country,” Schulz said, calling Alternative for Germany a “shame” for the country.