As Germans begin to sip on mulled wine at their traditional outdoor Christmas markets, Social Democrats and opposition party leaders are huddled indoors playing the ultimate power game: They need to nominate a candidate to run against three-term incumbent Chancellor Angela Merkel next year. It’s a tough call.
Which brings us to Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament who, not surprisingly, sees himself as fit for the job. The Social Democrat and career politician can count on a rock-solid network of loyal party functionaries. But a huge warning sign should hang over his nomination.
Schulz is a political rascal and rabble-rouser, not a statesman. He loves the intrigue of party politics more than policy. He prevented a European parliamentary committee from investigating European Commission President and former Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean Claude-Juncker’s role in turning his country into a tax haven. He also has a habit of putting German interests on the back burner in Brussels, and his appetite for debt is voracious, and far greater than it is for saving.
Schulz is an old-school redistribution politician. For him, the private sector is a cow that needs to be milked by the public sector, regardless of cost. And if that cow doesn’t give enough milk, then just go to the banks and get a good dose of credit.
Schulz is also a member of the Brussels establishment and would have liked to remain so if Juncker or Merkel had found a top job to keep him there. But they didn’t, and that’s why he’s looking for work in Berlin.
But the chancellery is no place to park or groom politicians. It’s where the tectonic plates of German power rub against each other, as former foreign minister Joschka Fischer once said. It’s where tough decisions are made, like sending German soldiers into combat. A chancellor is more than an eloquent linguist who can hold sway at Brussels soirees; a chancellor is someone with nerves of steel and government experience. There has never been a German chancellor worth his salt who didn’t govern a large city (Willy Brandt and Konrad Adenauer) or head a ministry (Ludwig Erhard, Helmut Schmidt and Merkel) or even a federal state (Kurt Georg Kiesinger, Helmut Kohl and Gerhard Schröder).
Social Democrats should be aware of Schulz’s tendency toward political self-indulgence and reject his advances. Former chancellors Brandt, Schmidt and Schröder served Germany well. And it’s not like the SPD doesn’t have individuals with chancellor potential.
Party chairman Sigmar Gabriel is cutting a good figure as economics minister. And as vice chancellor, he has not only imposed many of his policies on Merkel, but also his choice for president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
Another Social Democrat worth mentioning is Olaf Scholz, the mayor of Hamburg and former federal labor minister. He was a co-architect of the Agenda 2010 program that tackled Germany’s anachronistic labor laws under Schröder and has kept the country’s economy booming ever since. The trained lawyer from Hamburg is a man of moderation from the political center who gives people confidence in these taxing times.
As the world trembles, Scholz stands firm. And when he falls, as he did when Schröder was voted out of office in 2005, he gets right back on his feet.
The nomination of Martin Schulz, which so far is only a self-nomination, is not of the same caliber. And that’s why it’s a step too far – Schulz doesn’t belong in the chancellery. And this is the reality, even if no one at SPD headquarters wants to hear it. The media isn’t paid to be liked by the Social Democrats. Or as Willy Brandt once said: “Journalism can cease to exist when it becomes harmless.”
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