Schulz distances himself from German government

Martin Schulz has a fine balance to strike [European Parliament]

Angela Merkel’s main rival in Germany’s upcoming elections, Martin Schulz, is shying away from contact with the current government in order to fulfil his promise of a fresh start for the Bundesrepublik. EURACTIV’s partner Der Tagesspiegel.

Former European Parliament President Schulz recently angered the Social Democratic Party’s (SPD) coalition partners when he announced that he does not want to participate in government negotiations between now and the end of the legislative period. But he insisted that he is in favour of the country’s so-called grand coalition.

CDU parliamentary leader Volker Kauder accused Schulz of shirking his responsibilities and of a “refusal to work”.

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Schulz found a solution by first attending a prize-giving ceremony at the Reichstag that honoured young people that have made efforts to promote cohesion.

Afterwards, the SPD leader walked 400 metres up the road to the Chancellery to negotiate rights of return to full and part time jobs, limits on executive salaries and “marriage for all”.

What to an unbiased observer may look like childish avoidance actually has a political rationale. Schulz has presented himself as the outsider and a political maverick; therefore, he is looking to put as much distance between himself and the ruling coalition, as well as Merkel herself.

He fears that too close a proximity to the current government will jeopardise his promise of a new beginning.

Schulz will have undoubtedly studied the example set by his predecessor, Sigmar Gabriel, of how years of having to forge compromises with the Union (CDU and CSU) undermines social democratic credibility.

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The SPD candidate is facing a dilemma as a result. On the one hand, some in his party are pushing him to make it clear, at least symbolically, that he is not beholden to Merkel and that they face each other as the leaders of their respective parties.

That is because no scenario puts SPD voters off more than the prospect of the party having to play the role of little brother once again to Merkel’s CDU.

But Schulz’s party also has six months left of governing. That is why Kauder’s objections were not without reasoning, as the CDU man perhaps legitimately accused Schulz of focusing on the campaign and his party, rather than Germany.

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Schulz will want to avoid giving voters the idea that he is only interested in making promises for after the 24 September, rather than engaging in real policymaking in the half-year until the election.

To this end, the SPD has tried to use the “marriage for all” issue to put pressure on its coalition partners. The former is in favour of opening marriage up to same-sex unions while the CDU and CSU think that it should be limited to civil partnerships.

The initiative is intended to reflect societal changes and the fact that most Germans now back gay marriage. If the Union were to block the initiative then the SPD will look to use the issue to curry favour in the lead-up to the election.

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