In an exclusive DW interview, Merkel's challenger criticized her campaign motto and lack of leadership. He was also highly critical of Turkish President Erdogan, saying he would not be blackmailed on refugee policy.
Eight days before the Bundestag elections, Social Democratic Party (SPD) leader and chancellor candidate Martin Schulz once again harshly criticized Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. While campaigning in the southern Germany city of Freiburg, Schulz met with DW editor-in-chief Ines Pohl and TV presenter Jaafar Abdul Karim.
Schulz told DW that the human rights situation in Turkey is terrible. "If you fly to Turkey and make a report, I can't say whether or not you'll be in jail the next day. And that definitely is not consistent with European Union principles," explained the SPD leader.
He went on to say that it currently makes little sense to speak with President Erdogan. During his election campaign, Schulz has often advocated for the termination of EU accession talks with Ankara. If need be, he would also cancel the EU-Turkey refugee deal. "But I am not prepared to get down on my knees in front of Erdogan. We cannot allow ourselves to be blackmailed," he declared.
Read more: Turkey's moribund EU accession process
Campaigning for a European immigration law
Should he become chancellor, Schulz wants to start frank discussions on refugee policy with EU countries that refuse to accept refugees. The SPD chancellor candidate has openly threatened to deny EU funding to countries including Hungary and Poland. In the next seven years, some €900 billion ($1 trillion) in EU funds will be available for transfer to various EU members. "That is why I believe that during the finance talks we will tell countries such as Poland and Hungary, which receive large payments from the EU budget, that solidarity isn't like cherry picking. It is a principle. Either we show solidarity in all issues or we forget the whole thing," he said.
Schulz would like to implement a European immigration law with fixed immigration quotas, while maintaining the existing right to asylum. He also explained the necessity to cooperate with African nations: "In order to stop human traffickers we must, if need be, work together with countries like Niger. That is only possible under the supervision of international organizations, because constitutional norms must be adhered to and there is at least a risk of some nations not being able to follow international legal norms."
Read more: How does the German general election work?
Merkel is only 'managing the status quo'
With just over a week to go before the election, most polls show Schulz clearly trailing Chancellor Merkel and her Christian Democratic Union (CDU). Nevertheless, he isn't giving up, continuing to attack the chancellor. "Angela Merkel manages Germany's status quo according to the motto 'a country in which we live well and enjoy living.' She is right. We do live well and enjoy living in this country. But we also want life to be good tomorrow, and that is why we need to tell the people which course we are taking."
'Would have given a televised speech'
Many people are uncertain about the country's future, including a great part of the middle class. Schulz said that had he been chancellor at the height of the refugee crisis two years ago, for example, he would have addressed German citizens in a televised speech to explain his actions in order to avoid misinterpretations. He also said that politicians generally do not have the courage to tell people that nothing will stay the same in today's rapidly changing world. Schulz cited examples in Europe, such as Brexit supporters, followers of Italy's Beppe Grillo and the Five Star Movement or the Front National in France. In Schulz's opinion, what these movements all have in common is that they have managed to gain the support of angry citizens who are frustrated with a drastically changing world.
Low popularity ratings versus inner equilibrium
When asked whether he was disappointed with his sinking poll numbers, Schulz responded, "I'm doing fine, honestly ... I'll have to disappoint you there. When I open the morning paper and the polls are favorable I am happy. If I open the paper and the polls are bad, I am not happy. But throughout my life I have had my share of ups and downs. My inner equilibrium tells me polls are just polls. The people will speak on September 24th. And then we'll see."
And which top politician from another political party would the SPD leader take with him to a deserted island? Schulz didn't have to think long: he would choose Green Party co-chair Cem Özdemir. "I know him the best; he was with me in the European Parliament. He's a fine person."