Germany's election

The Man to Take on Merkel

  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Martin Schulz appears set to become the Social Democratic Party’s nominee to oppose Angela Merkel in this year’s national elections in Germany.

  • Facts


    • Sigmar Gabriel said he will relinquish his post as vice chancellor and head of the SPD, Germany’s second-largest party.
    • Mr. Gabriel’s surprise departure clears the way for Martin Schulz to take on Angela Merkel in this fall’s elections.
    • Mr. Schulz has spent most of his political career outside of Germany, rising to become president of the European Parliament in 2012.
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Could Martin Schulz help the SPD unseat Angela Merkel? Source: DPA

After months of speculation about Martin Schulz’s future, he broke his silence last November: The Social Democrat announced he would give up his Brussels post as European Parliament president and return to the German political arena in January.

After vice chancellor Sigmar Gabriel surprised many on Tuesday by withdrawing as the Social Democratic challenger to Angela Merkel, Mr. Schulz is expected to become the Social Democrats’ top candidate in the coming election.

The SPD will formally announce its candidate this Sunday in Berlin.

Their likely choice, Mr. Schulz, was born near Aachen in 1955. He was the youngest son of political activists from opposing sides of the spectrum. His father, the eleventh child of a large working-class mining family, was a member of the SPD, while his mother founded the local branch of the center-right Christian Democratic Union.

Together with his four older siblings, Mr. Schulz was educated nearby, though he didn’t graduate from high school. But the family was engaged, politics dominated dinnertime talk and later, all five children joined the SPD.

As a boy, Mr. Schulz was a keen soccer player but knee injuries forced him to abandon his dream of a sporting career. Deeply disappointed, he became depressed and turned to drink, becoming an alcoholic by the age of 24. He was considering suicide when his sister and a friend intervened. He then stopped drinking, helped by his brother, a doctor, and hasn’t touched a drop since.

It was a turning point. Mr. Schulz joined his siblings in the Young Socialists, the SPD’s youth group, and impressed many with his uncompromising manner.

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