The former president of the European Parliament failed dramatically in his bid to unseat Chancellor Angela Merkel. But is he looking for a comeback? He talked to DW's Conflict Zone.
Martin Schulz had hoped to become Germany's chancellor, or at least the country's foreign minister, but he instead now plays a minor role on the backbenches of the country's parliament.
It was a dramatic fall for a politician who went from being the hope of the Social Democrats, elected party leader with a record 100 per cent of the votes, to the man responsible for the party's worst election result in decades.
However, when asked by DW's Conflict Zone host Tim Sebastian, Schulz said he was not the wrong candidate for the top job.
He added that, during the campaign, there was a very specific atmosphere, one where Chancellor Merkel "tried successfully to escape from what we need in an election campaign: open confrontation, the competition of arguments for the best solutions."
"I am not a bad loser," said Schulz, who before the failed campaign in 2017 made his mark as European Parliament (EP) president from 2012 to 2017.
Behind closed doors
The EP has been widely criticized for its democratic deficits, but Martin Schulz said this criticism has mainly come from right-wing tendencies in the United Kingdom.
Martin Schulz was elected as leader of the SPD with 100 per cent of the delegates' votes in March 2017, but was unable to lead his party to victory in the federal elections.
But when DW's Conflict Zone host Tim Sebastian asked him whether this criticism is nevertheless valid, Schulz said it was "completely nonsense."
"If the European Union is not sufficiently democratic, I agree. But this is not especially the European Parliament, the other way round," he said.
"This is the only directly elected institution in the European Union."
So how did he explain the criticism which suggests his election to the presidency was decided behind closed doors and the EP only had to rubber stamp it, as Green MEP Ulrike Lunacek said?
Schulz said he didn't know in advance that he was going to win and says that "members of the European Parliament voted in a secret ballot for me with a majority."
"This is democracy. I was running and I had a candidate [running] against me."
Codes of conduct
Tim Sebastian mentioned that a number of MEPs and transparency campaigners also criticized the parliament because they believed legislation was being fast-tracked and key negotiations were being conducted in the shadows.
When asked about this controversy, Martin Schulz once again disagreed and stressed that the EP is "a very transparent parliament."
"The only institution gathering openly in the committees and in the plenary is the European Parliament. Therefore, that criticism is wrong."
Tim Sebastian also asked Schulz about the breaches of the code of conduct for MEPs, in particular regarding transparency over earnings and second jobs.
Martin Schulz dismissed the idea that he appeared to be disinterested and said he followed a lot of cases and took action, citing that he had dismissed a group member following allegations in the press.
"I think I did a lot to increase transparency in the European Parliament."
But what about his own office expenses, which also raised eyebrows?
In April 2015, a review of the parliament's finances noted with concern the large number of staff based in the office of the EP president, which included two drivers and a personal usher.
Schulz rejected the idea that it was a bad example for cost reduction and fiscal responsibility, and said that his office was smaller than his predecessor's.
"The president of the European Parliament is the president of an institution. He is the president of 8,000 civil servants working for the parliament," he said. "You can't make this with two or three advisers."
Deeper European integration
Regardless of these controversies and his now limited political influence, Martin Schulz has remained a passionate European and has continued to defend one his main proposals: the idea of a United States of Europe or, in other words, an even deeper integration of the EU.
Martin Schulz is now focussing on his work in the German parliament, of which he has been a member since 2017.
"I am for sure proud not to share the view of Mr. Orban and Mr. Kaczynski," he said.
"But if you want to run in future times the EU and the idea of democracy against people like Mr. Trump, Xi Jinping or Mr. Putin, we have to deepen European integration."
Schulz has defended these European ideas for a long time, and he probably will continue to do so, although not again as a candidate for chancellor.
This is an option he dismissed.
Rather, he will focus on his role as member of the German Bundestag.
"I am not looking for a comeback. I am here," he said.