Germany: Angela Merkel Faces Challenge for Chancellorship

Martin Schulz, the former president of the European Parliament, has been chosen to challenge Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany’s general election on September 24.

The policy positions of Schulz and Merkel on key issues are virtually identical: Both candidates are committed to strengthening the European Union, maintaining open-door immigration policies, pursuing multiculturalism and quashing dissent from the so-called far right.

Polls show Merkel, who heads the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), slightly ahead of Schulz, the new leader of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD). Regardless of who wins, Germany is unlikely to undergo many course corrections during the next four years.

Schulz, who became a Member of the European Parliament in 1994, and has spent most of his political career in Brussels, unofficially took over the reins of the SPD on January 29, 2017, after the unpopular Sigmar Gabriel said he was stepping down. The move will become official at a party congress on March 19. SPD leaders said that as an “outsider,” Schulz has a better chance of unseating Merkel, who has been in office since November 2005, and is running for a fourth term.

The SPD has been the junior partner in a Merkel-run “grand coalition” (Große Koalition) government since December 2013. SPD leaders say that if the party wins at least 30% of the national vote, Schulz will become the next chancellor.

In an interview with Der Spiegel, Schulz, 61, said he was the best candidate to replace Merkel, who is 62. “I have worked with Angela Merkel longer than almost anyone outside her party,” he said. “I have studied her, gotten to know her.” Schulz has eight months to persuade Germans to vote for him.

The latest INSA poll shows the CDU (together with its Bavarian sister party, the CSU) with 32.5% of the vote, the SPD with 26%, and the anti-establishment party Alternative for Germany (AfD) in third place with 13%.

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