Schulz unopposed as socialist frontrunner for Commission presidency


Martin Schulz will be the European socialists’ frontrunner for the EU elections in May, the party announced on Wednesday (6 November), after he was unopposed in the selection procedure. The German politician tips euroscepticism and youth unemployment as key campaign issues.

Martin Schulz, the current president of the European Parliament, will lead the pan-European socialist campaign towards next EU elections in May 2014. He is also running as the socialist candidate for the seat of European Commission presidency.

Schulz received the supported of 19 member parties across Europe, after being nominated by his own German SPD party, the European socialist party PES announced yesterday (6 November).

“The support [from the member parties] is an enormous encouragement for me,” Schulz said. The Irish minister of education and PES treasurer Ruairi Quinn called the support of the parties a “massive endorsement”.

Schulz was unopposed: no other candidate stepped forward to challenge him in a race to be the socialist campaign figurehead.

Schulz was tipped as socialist frontrunner over the past months.

He expressed eagerness to participate in the race for the top job in the European Commission. At the event announcing his candidature, Schulz stressed that euroscepticism and youth unemployment would be his main campaign issues.

“Parties are openly running against the idea of Europe. I want to lead the debate of which kind of Europe we want,” he said, adding that the EU needs to “regain the trust of its citizens, who are losing their faith that the EU institutions can safeguard the social and individual interests.”

Addressing the dire state of European employment, Schulz said that “the highest priority was to offer chances to young people. For a social democrat, and for other people in Europe, this is not acceptable. The richest part of the world should be able to offer wealth to its citizens.”

In the coming months, Schulz will lobby socialist parties across Europe for their official endorsement, to be given at the party’s electoral congress in Rome on 1 March 2014. The party will also adopt its so-called manifesto at the congress in Rome.

Pan-European campaign pitfalls

The European socialists also discussed their common programme for the EU elections behind closed doors in a presidency meeting, on Wednesday.

The so-called manifesto will be “concise”, Quinn told EURACTIV, adding that “the campaign will vary from country to country. We have to adapt the campaign to each of the national states, with respect for their political culture.”

“In Ireland,” Quinn says, “Martin’s picture will be in the campaign folders and we’ll put him forward as our candidate for the Commission presidency”, but this might not be the case in every country.

The fact that Schulz is from Germany could influence voter behaviour, analysts have speculated.

In June, the pollster Gallup released the report ‘EU Elections 2014 countdown: One year to go’, in which it asked whether the nationality of a common candidate could refrain people from giving their vote to a party. On average, 37% of responders in six countries said it could influence their choice.

Germany’s reputation is especially bad in crisis-hit countries like Spain, Portugal or Greece. Thousands of Greeks took the streets last October to protest during a visit by German chancellor Angela Merkel.

But the socialist party says it is convinced that Schulz’ nationality will not play a role. “There’s no risk of this playing against our candidate,” says Brian Synnott, press and web communications coordinator at PES.

“If you look at the support that Martin got from the Greek socialist member party, it shows this is not a risk. The political affiliation will be of importance in the European Parliament elections – not the national affiliation.”

Whether Schulz will actively campaign in each country, depends on the campaign schedule, which is months away from being finalised.

German coalition talks

Even with the socialist nomination as candidate for the Commission presidency in his pocket, Schulz will have to pass many more hurdles before having a chance at the Commission president seat.

After the elections on 22-25 May, the European Council will nominate a candidate, “taking into account” the results of the elections (Article 17.7, TEU). Parliament will then vote on this proposal.

German chancellor Angela Merkel has scorned the parties' attempts to push forward their own candidates for the job, saying "there’s no automatic linkage between number of votes and [top positions] to be filled – not to me".

>> Read: German coalition talks cast long shadow over EU elections

Besides needing to put together a coalition in the next European Parliament to support his candidacy for Commission president, Schulz will also need the approval of the German government.

>> Read: EU parties line up for Brussels top job nomination

As government coalition talks are still ongoing in Berlin, it is highly unclear how this will pan out. Schulz is helping to negotiate a coalition deal for the SPD, but denies that his candidacy as future German commissioner is being discussed.

“Media organisations seem to know or think this is the case, but I am unaware that it is on the table,” Schulz said. German MEP Jo Leinen told EURACTIV earlier that this issue was in fact pushed by the German socialists as part of the coalition deal.

The European elections will be held in all EU countries in May 2014. The Lisbon Treaty states that the European Parliament shall elect the Commission president on the basis of a proposal made by the European Council, taking into account the European elections (Article 17, Paragraph 7 of the TEU). This will apply for the first time in the 2014 elections.

European Parliament, parties and many others have pushed for these parties to nominate their front-runners in the election campaigns. This would make the European elections a de facto race for the Commission president seat, would politicise the campaigns and could increase voter turnout, they say.

But others have argued that the European parties’ push for own candidates may not be the best solution. Raising expectations could easily lead to disappointment, Herman Van Rompuy has repeatedly said, calling for caution in case the European Council chooses another candidate than the winning party’s frontrunner.

European socialists

  • 1 Dec. 2013: PES opens internal selection procedure for member parties
  • 28 Feb.-1 Mar. 2014: PES congress electing the candidate and adopting a common campaign manifesto (date not yet confirmed)
  • 22-25 May 2014: European parliament elections in all 28 member states

Other parties

  • 13-15 Dec.: Party of European Left Congress in Madrid, voting on Alexis Tsipras as candidate
  • 29 Jan. 2014: Announcement of European Greens' duo of frontrunners, after closing of primaries (28 Jan.)
  • 1 Febr. 2014: ALDE electoral congress in Brussels, selecting their candidate
  • 6-7 Mar. 2014: EPP (Centre-Right) Congress in Dublin

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