Schulz: Will he stay or will he go?

Presidents unite. Juncker wants Schulz to stay on until 2019, but he will have his work cut out trying to convince his party colleagues. [European Commission]

Martin Schulz is supposed to give up the European Parliament presidency in January, under an agreement brokered between the two biggest political groups. But a change of plans is afoot. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Trips to Colombia and Venezuela, a visit to Ankara, conferences, business meetings – Martin Schulz rushes from one appointment to another. This work ethic has characterised 60-year-old Schulz’s time in office since he was first elected head of the European Parliament in January 2012.

If it were up to him, the politician from the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group would continue in the job all the way up until the next European election in June 2019.

Whether he will get his wish remains to be seen.

Doubts circulate over whether Schulz will be allowed to continue as president, as the two largest political parties in the Parliament, the European People’s Party (EPP) and Schulz’s S&D group, have a written agreement saying that Schulz will give up his post in January 2017 and cede it to an EPP nominee.

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But the agreement is now being questioned. It isn’t just the S&D group’s leader, Gianni Pittella (PD), and German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel (SPD) that are publicly calling for Schulz to be retained. Even the European Commission’s president and EPP affiliate Jean-Claude Juncker has backed him to stay in office for the rest of the legislative period.

Juncker has urged Schulz to be kept on in order to bring stability at a time when the EU continues to deal with the refugee crisis, economic concerns and Brexit.

Next Wednesday (14 September), the Luxemburger is expected to try and bring his party colleagues around to his way of thinking at an EPP meeting in Strasbourg. Whether he will be successful is far from certain.

German MEP Herbert Reul (CDU) insisted that “for us, the agreement applies.” The group discussed personnel matters before the summer break, but the issue of whether to allow Schulz to stay was not broached.

The EPP is the largest party in the Parliament with 215 MEPs, Markus Feber (CSU) pointed out, adding that “we have a right to this post” as a result.

EPP chairman Manfred Weber (also CSU) has not ventured an opinion on the matter as yet, but his spokesperson has echoed the party’s sentiments: “We stand by the agreement.”

If the EPP does do things by the book, then incumbent Schulz could still theoretically stand against an opposition candidate. But the German would be running a big risk.

To be elected president, an individual needs 376 votes, even if all 189 S&D MEPs voted in his favour, he would still have to court votes from the smaller parties. Schulz can discount any hope of garnering support from any parties to the right of the EPP and even among the Greens and Liberals he is divisive.

Why Germany has had enough of Juncker

According to the Sunday Times, Angela Merkel sees Jean-Claude Juncker as “part of the problem” with the EU. But it was she who installed him at the head of the European Commission in 2014. So why the change of mind now? EURACTIV’s partner La Tribune reports.

Quite a few MEPs have accused the German of colluding with Juncker in order to get majorities for unpopular legislative change. German MEP Reinhard Bütikofer (Greens/EFA) said that many noses in the Parliament have been put out of joint by Schulz’s “autocratic style”.

Nevertheless, even his opponents concede that Schulz has elevated the Parliament to a higher level with his confident demeanour and Reul insisted that the incumbent had strengthened it as an institution.

This makes the job of choosing a potential candidate difficult for the EPP. While there are no shortage of names being bandied around, including former Industry Commissioner Antonio Tajani, Alain Lamassoure, Othmar Karas and Maired McGuiness, many doubt whether they could compete with a political thoroughbred like Schulz.

Schulz’s party colleague Jo Leinen (SPD) still does not rule out the EPP waiving its right to the position completely. “The poker game has truly begun now,” he warned.

Schulz himself has already started to deal the cards in this particular game, arguing that the conservatives already have the other top jobs at the institutions, as Juncker is Commission chief and Donald Tusk is president of the European Council.

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