Next May the voters of the European Union will not only have the chance to elect their Euro MPs but if they vote for socialist and social democratic parties under the PES umbrella they will also be voting for Martin Schulz. Schulz is the agreed PES candidate for the post of EC President: should that grouping be in the majority he would replace Barroso.
A lot has to happen before that scenario falls in to place but if determination and a commitment to return the EU to the people of Europe counts for anything then Schulz has made a good start. He may also be the only candidate for EC President offered to the voters.
I first heard Martin Schulz speak in Sofia in June at the PES Congress. He was then, as he is now, President of the European Parliament. He articulated a clear vision for reforming the EU which struck a chord. Then he was only spoken of as a potential PES Candidate for EC President. Since then at least 20 of the PES parties have backed him and hence he is the candidate designate to be confirmed in Rome at the end of February.
Last week I had the chance to hear Martin Schulz speak again as candidate and what’s more in his native Germany to Germans. It was fascinating to hear his own party’s take on his campaign. That was set out by Achim Post, a leading SPD politician, who also happens to be the Secretary General of PES.
It was clear at the PES meeting in Leipzig just hours ahead of the SPD conference that party members are very proud that Schulz had been supported by parties Europe wide. However as Post pointed out Germans are fully aware that Germany under Merkel is far from popular in Europe and hence the need to differentiate between her CDU and the SPD. This will almost certainly be a difficult task as it is likely that the SPD will form a coalition with the CDU to govern Germany: so Schulz will be linked to the style of governance he opposes.
For his part Schulz has made it very clear that if elected as EC President he will hold the post in the name of the people of Europe and not the Heads of Governments of the EU. Next May not only will there be a new European Parliament but if Schulz is elected a hurricane of change will blow through Brussels.
So what does Schulz stand for? He talks of a more social Europe. “The EU needs to be reformed. It is neither socially just nor effective. It has no solidarity and threatens to disintegrate into pieces.” Schulz has promoted European unity as a unique project of civilization for peace, freedom and justice on the continent. In the forthcoming European elections this is threatened by backward-looking, ultra-nationalist parties: “We have to tell them - nationalism in Europe has always been just war, destruction and misery.”
Schulz is leading the fight against youth unemployment where some Member States are stagnating at record levels of jobless young people. “We are the richest continent in the world and allow that in some countries up to 50 percent of young people are unemployed,” he told SPD delegates in Leipzig. His SPD has voted for the fight against youth unemployment to be the top priority along with growth impulses.
Schulz’s key message is for more democracy so he is fighting for increased democratic participation, equality between men and women, peace internally and externally, and a social Europe. In addition in times of digital transformation the need for privacy and civil liberties get a high priority. More will emerge in the coming weeks and months.
Andreas Herrmann is a German member of PES, the SPD and a journalist. What is his take on Schulz the candidate? “In my view Martin is a real European. He grew up in the frontier region between Germany, France and Belgium and has experienced there growing together from daily life. I live in a similar region with borders to Poland and the Czech people. That’s why I know how much work has to be invested even on regional level to bring people together and secure peace. Martin is the man who can bring this very human bottom up approach to the highest level of European policy and that’s why he is the right person for Commission President.”
So to France where the Parti Socialiste considers itself the big beast of European socialist politics. Pierre Kanuty is responsible for international affairs for the PS and he said the party supports “Martin Schulz as a PES candidate for the European Commission. We have been in favour of such a decision in the previous European elections of 2009. We thought the European socialists have to embody their political programme for Europe in a strong progressive leadership. It was coherent to propose an alternative to conservatives in Europe and then have someone else other than Barroso to vote for. Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, who was in favour of this idea and who was the perfect candidate, did not get a majority among PES leaders and heads of government as a candidate. Learning from its mistakes, PES decided in autumn 2009 to have a common candidate.”
He continued: “Europe is about ideas and people who can show there is an alternative to the hysteria of austerity and to conservatives. Martin Schulz is a good candidate. As president of the European parliament, the only democratically elected body of the EU, Martin was determined enough to put his foot in the door as the Council and the Commission used to have the last words.”
Final word to Pierre on the fact that Schulz is German? Kanuty observed: “Some may think it makes a lot of Germans around. But unlike Merkel’s CDU which dreams of a German Europe, Schulz is committed to a European Germany.”
Vive la différence!
Vive la liberté et la démocratie!
(The above article was published in the London Progressive Journal on November 17 2013 with versions in other publications)