With just two months until election day, Martin Schulz must drum up more support if he wants to unseat three-term Chancellor Angela Merkel. But his latest attempt to do so was wrong, says DW's Michaela Küfner.
A "You know me already" campaign slogan carried Angela Merkel and her CDU party to victory four years ago. The chancellor's opinion polls are pointing up and durchmerkeln - "Merkeling through," or the ability to reassure voters without offering any concrete policy positions - might once again suffice to gain yet another term in office.
Martin Schulz's poor performance as a challenger so far may make this her strongest slogan once again. This comes as a surprise to many, including the chancellor herself, who had declared that she expected a "tough" campaign.
Right now she is on holiday, which pretty much sums up the situation.
In an increasingly desperate bid to catch up in the opinion polls, Merkel's Social Democratic (SPD) contender Martin Schulz just pulled "Point Nine" of his election manifestoto the top of his political agenda. He warns that the migration crisis "is back" and that "unless we act now the situation threatens to repeat itself."
No doubt this issue moves most voters in Germany given the arrival of nearly 900,000 migrants in 2015 alone and the prospect that this could happen again. Schulz is on to something here.
It's just that the very words of Martin Schulz could just as easily have come from Chancellor Merkel herself, who declared at her own party conference last December that "the situation of 2015 must not repeat itself."
It all sounds very familiar
The fact that neither Schulz nor Merkel are able to present a simple and effective solution to this hot button issue only emphasizes the common ground that clearly exists between the two.
Schulz's call for more solidarity from other EU countries let him once again sound more like Martin Schulz the former head of the EU parliament than the man who wants to unseat the bloc's longest serving head of government. His concrete suggestions fall short of a new approach from the one his party supported as junior coalition partner in Angela Merkel's own cabinet.
Merkel, too, has called for more solidarity from other EU countries. She pledged more solidarity with Italy at a meeting with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni less than two weeks ago. Here, Germany's promise to take 750 instead of 500 migrants per month from Italy is clearly little more than political symbolism. But Schulz is choosing to pick a fight on the very topic that saw his own SPD party largely support Merkel against her own inner party critics - and where all sides know the key is in Brussels.
German topics not his strong suit
The fact that he chose that topic just two months before the election highlights how much more comfortable he feels on European issues - his political home turf - than on, say, points one through seven of his own "Plan for the Future" for Germany.
Those include investment, innovation for industry, digitalization, open society, employment, pensions, family policy, equality between men and women, and education.
Get Angela Merkel talking on digitalization of the working environment and you will soon realize that - if only the electorate were up for it - she would relish the opportunity to engage. But the appetite for the subject simply isn't there.
That works for Merkel, whose power base is content with her tried and tested staple policies.
It is Martin Schulz's task to create a new appetite for Social Democrat policies. Most importantly, he must set them apart from the grand coalition government in which his party is still junior partner to Merkel's CDU.
Migration could have been an issueof last resort. By raising the migration alarm so early and with so little substantive policy change to offer, he's showing he would rather skip to the good part - that is to say, becoming chancellor - instead of embracing his current role - namely, as a candidate. By all appearances, it's going to be a long nine weeks for him until election day.