Opinion: Martin Schulz must be SPD′s chancellor choice | Opinion | DW | 11.12.2016
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Opinion: Martin Schulz must be SPD's chancellor choice

There are now plenty of good reasons for the Social Democrats to select Martin Schulz as their chancellor candidate. The latest opinion polls confirm this, DW's Jens Thurau writes.

There's no point in reading too much into opinion polls nine months before elections. But perhaps we can summarize the latest figures from Infratest dimap as follows: Germans are a bit tired of Angela Merkel, they still trust her, but there's a sense that things aren't going anywhere under the current chancellor - and that things could be different.

Germans believe that more than just a few screws need adjusting. It's just that there's no one who can take Merkel's place: There's no real alternative, as Gerhard Schröder was in 1998, after the endless years of Helmut Kohl.

Thurau Jens Kommentarbild App

Jens Thurau

Is that true? Is there really no one? Or might Martin Schulz, of the Social Democrats (SPD), be someone?

They're equally popular

The figures are astounding. Merkel and Schulz, a two-term president of the European Parliament, are equally popular. Fifty-seven percent of respondents expressed favorable opinions about both of them, even though Schulz is not really all that well-known yet domestically. Merkel leads Schulz by only seven percentage points (43-36) in a hypothetical head-to-head, which is well ahead of her margin over SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel.

This is a bit unfair to Gabriel, Merkel's vice chancellor in the grand coalition. He took over the SPD shortly after its shellacking in the 2009 elections and has now led the party for longer than anyone since Willy Brandt, who served as chairman for 23 years. When it comes to the chancellor candidacy, he's first in line: How could it be otherwise? He is - it is easily forgotten - a great campaigner; we have yet to find out whether Schulz is good at this, too. Most recently, Gabriel managed to face down the chancellor and establish the SPD Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier as the sole candidate in the federal presidential election. That was a real coup.

But none of this helps. There are many in politics who view Gabriel as unpredictable. And, although there's little he can do about it, he himself is symbolic of stasis - the notion that the screws will be tightened but the parts won't be replaced.

Schulz is more symbolic of a new direction. He can attack the chancellor more credibly because he has not governed with her in the grand coalition. The SPD has yet to benefit from his return to Germany. How could it? It remains unclear what exactly his intentions are. But if the SPD doesn't want to content itself with 22 or 23 percent in next year's elections - if it is prepared to break new ground in order to achieve, say, 26, 27 or 28 percent - the party must choose Schulz.

A small part of the disenchantment that drives voters to seek solace with the far right derives from the fact that voters believe that they are not being offered real alternatives. Martin Schulz will not likely unseat Angela Merkel, but he can reduce the margin that the SPD loses by. By selecting him, the party could show some competitive spirit. In these simultaneously static and deeply unsettling times, that would really be something.

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