Martin Schulz wants to be Germany’s FM, but can the EU dinosaur reinvent himself?
If the former head of the European Parliament does ultimately take the reins at Germany’s Foreign Ministry, he’ll have to contend with his innumerable and highly outspoken critics – both at home and abroad. But Schulz’s biggest diplomatic hurdle may be himself.
Even his own political party doesn’t really like him
Facing criticism over his party’s poor showing in the November election, Schulz announced yesterday that he will step down as leader of the Social Democrats (SPD) following the approval of the party’s “grand coalition” with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc. Although Schultz is standing down as SPD leader, he is not leaving the party and can take a ministerial post.
But even if a new government is formed – which is not a certainty, since the deal still requires ratification from the SPD’s roughly 450,000 members, many of whom are furious that Schulz entered into an unholy alliance with Merkel – SPD leaders appear underwhelmed at the prospect of Schulz serving as foreign minister.
Michael Frenzel, president of the Economic Forum of the SPD, told Die Welt that it would be “very, very bad if we would have to do without [Sigmar] Gabriel as foreign minister.” His sentiments mirror those of other party leaders, according to the newspaper.
It’s not just social democrats who are uninspired by Schulz, however. The latest polls indicate that just 14 percent of Germans would be happy with Schulz as chancellor (there are reports that he also has his eye on the position of vice chancellor).
To top it all off, Schulz was voted Germany’s biggest political loser in 2017 – according to a survey by Kantar Emnid and Funke Mediengruppe – thanks in part to leading his party to its worst election results in Germany’s post-war history.
It will be difficult for Schulz to safeguard German interests abroad while marshaling so little confidence in his abilities back home.
Fellow Europhiles think he’s naive
Outside of Germany, Schulz is perhaps best known as a zealous defender of the European Union – and an advocate for new steps towards greater European integration. The former European Parliament president has gone so far as to push for the creation of a federalized “united states of Europe” within eight years.
As German foreign minister, Schulz’s views on the necessity of European unity would likely antagonize growing skepticism about the union’s long-term viability. His oftentimes extreme statements on the subject have even raised eyebrows among pro-EU leaders.
At last year’s World Economic Forum, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte clashed with Schulz over his vision for Europe, taking the German to task for his “romantic ideas” which he said were “the fastest way to dismantle Europe.” Insisting that an “ever closer union” is “buried and gone,” Rutte told Schulz and the other participants of the Davos meeting that Europe needed a “pragmatic approach and to stop lofty speeches.”
But Schulz doubled down, telling the forum that “there are people saying ‘I’m here to defend the interests of my country,’ as if the interests of their country were being attacked by the European Union – the same union they are building. This is a dangerous way.”
The wrong man for the Brexit job?
Germany will play a central role in EU negotiations if the UK follows through with Brexit, and Martin Schulz has quite a colorful history with many British politicians.
In 2010, UKIP’s Godfrey Bloom heckled Schulz with “Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer,” calling the German an “undemocratic fascist.”
Schulz was similarly lambasted after being elected to his first term as president of the European Parliament in 2012. UKIP leader Nigel Farage said he worried that Schulz was unfit to be president due to his inability to “control his temper” and “intolerance of anybody with an alternative point of view,” adding that the European Parliament would likely suffer under “two and a half years of political fanaticism.”
And while being on UKIP’s good side may not be necessary to be a successful German foreign minister, the British press has previously labeled Schulz an “anti-Brexit hardliner.”
Schulz himself warned in March that he would push for “the hardest Brexit possible” if members of the European parliament were excluded from Brexit talks.
The next German foreign minister will have to work with an increasingly fracturing Europe on a range of issues from immigration to fiscal policy. He or she will also likely have to renegotiate a litany of agreements with the UK, assuming that Brexit goes forward. Above all, Berlin’s next top diplomat will need to find nuance in highly politicized issues – and work towards pragmatic compromise.
For a man who has made promoting European unity and cooperation an almost holy quest, Schulz appears more than ill-suited for the task – especially if he is to serve as German foreign minister.
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