Martin Schulz has decided not to make an attempt at becoming the Social Democrats candidate for chancellor. Is the move only to clear the way for Sigmar Gabriel to run against Chancellor Merkel or is there more to it?
Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament, has apparently indicated he will not pursue the top of the German Social Democratic Party's (SPD) ticket in the 2017 German election, news magazine "Der Spiegel" reported on Friday. This leaves Sigmar Gabriel, currently the head of the SPD as well as vice chancellor and minister of energy, as the Social Democrat most likely to vie for the Chancellery.
Schulz announced in November that he would not run for re-election to the European Parliament and instead return to German politics. He has not, however, personally commented on whether he would run for the chancellorship and one of his spokespeople told Reuters news agency that Schulz would not comment on the report in "Der Spiegel."
Many members of the SPD were reportedly eager for Schulz to become the party's candidate for chancellor because they blame the party's recent slump in part on the somewhat unpopular Gabriel. The Social Democrats have been polling at just over 20 percent, far behind the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) headed by Chancellor Angela Merkel.
A ploy for the Foreign Ministry?
According to a recent survey, only 43 percent of Germans have a positive view of Gabriel, while 57 percent approve of Schulz's work. According to "Der Spiegel," it was an open secret that Schulz wanted to run for chancellor, but the 61-year old was reluctant to run against his friend Gabriel. Without naming the source of its information, "Der Spiegel" reported that Schulz told acquaintances before Christmas that he would not be the party's top candidate.
Other rumors in Berlin, however, suggest that should the elections result in another "grand coalition" government with Merkel at the helm, Schulz could enter the cabinet as foreign minister. Current Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier of the SPD is likely to become Germany's next president in February.
Important endorsements for Gabriel
Over the past few weeks, Gabriel has collected a range of endorsements from within his party. Three premiers from SPD-led states endorsed Gabriel - Berlin's Michael Müller, North Rhine-Westphalia's Hannelore Kraft and, Schleswig-Holstein's Torsten Albig. He also garnered praise from the influential Seeheimer Kreisel, a group representing the right wing of the center-left party.
Gabriel is expected to face Merkel in the election. The SPD is currently a junior partner in Merkel's grand coalition government along with the Christian Social Union (CSU,) the Bavarian sister party to the CDU. Prominent politicians from the SPD and CDU have declared that they would prefer to work in a different coalition after the next election. But the parties' post-election coalition calculus will be impacted in a large part by how well the populist, far-right Alternative for Germany (AFD) does in the poll.
The SPD is expected to announce its candidate for chancellor in late January.
Germany is due to hold parliamentary elections in September. The German chancellor is not directly elected but voted into office by the parliament. However, the candidates for chancellor are expected to play a central role in the election campaign.
mb/sms (AFP, Reuters)