Schulz Lays Out Plans to Topple Merkel in 2017 Election

  • Social Democrat Schulz takes pro-EU stance for German election
  • Says Germany can’t stand by if main export market falls apart

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s main election challenger said nationalist forces are out to destroy the European Union, posing an unacceptable risk to the integrity of Germany’s main export market.

Martin Schulz, the Social Democratic candidate seeking to topple Merkel in Germany’s vote on Sept. 24, cited U.S. President Donald Trump’s pre-inauguration meeting with former U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage as evidence of forces arrayed against the EU.

Martin Schulz on Jan. 30.

Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

“There’s apparently a desire to split the European Union,” Schulz said at a news conference in Berlin on Monday. “For us Germans, this means that the world’s biggest single market, in which we -- the world’s third-biggest exporter -- sell most of our products, is to be destroyed.” That’s “quite certainly not in Germany’s interest,” he said.

Schulz, who presided over the European Parliament until December, is laying down a pro-EU marker as the German election campaign takes shape. Merkel, who’s seeking a fourth term as chancellor, took aim at Trump hours later, portraying his decision to limit entry from seven countries as an overly broad anti-Muslim measure that’s “in no way justified” by the fight against terrorism.

Schulz, 61, stepped into the fray after party leader Sigmar Gabriel unexpectedly stood aside last week, clearing the way for a candidate who, according to polls, is a stronger opponent against Merkel. Polls suggest that Schulz is giving the SPD momentum, narrowing the lead of the chancellor’s Christian Democratic-led bloc. Merkel’s CDU and her Bavarian CSU allies gained a percentage point to 37 percent, while the SPD climbed two points to 23 percent, according to an Emnid poll for Bild newspaper published Saturday.

“My aim is to be the chancellor of the federal republic,” Schulz said in a speech on Sunday. “A jolt is going through the whole country and we want to use this atmosphere of change.”

Bavarian Shift

At a weekend party meeting in her electoral district on the Baltic coast, Merkel, 62, sought to reprise her role as an anchor of stability after more than 11 years in office.

“We’re living in very uneasy times,” she told members of her Christian Democratic Union in the town of Grimmen in Germany’s former communist east. “Everywhere there is change, fallout, renewal as well as uncertainty -- and so I think it’s very important for us to know where we come from.”

In Grimmen, delegates voted for Merkel to stand as a parliamentary candidate in the district she’s held since 1990. The result, more than 95 percent, was short of the unanimous support she won in 2013.

Any damper was allayed as Horst Seehofer, the leader of Bavaria’s governing Christian Social Union, said his party will support Merkel in a joint campaign, setting aside a dispute over refugee policy. The two party leaders will meet next weekend in Munich to address their differences.

“We have a great interest in a strong chancellor,” Seehofer told Bild am Sonntag. “Angela Merkel is not only a first-class representative of Germany but also leads on the international level.”

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