While much of the focus in Europe is currently on the French Presidential election, Germany is following hot on its heels. Angela Merkel faces a stiff test from a new challenger in the September Parliamentary elections: left-winger Martin Schulz.
Schulz was almost a different kind of left winger. After a promising football career was ended by a serious injury, he fell into alcoholism before recovering and opening a bookshop. He then joined the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and became mayor of a small town, before joining the European Parliament as an MEP.
Schulz is hardly an unknown, but his rise to the top of domestic politics was a surprise. Without any academic qualifications, he rose to the rank of President of the European Parliament, and ended his term only a couple of months ago.
Recommended by the outgoing leader of the SPD, he was quickly elected leader of the party. Having been a less than popular member of the coalition government, their approval ratings have now skyrocketed, jumping over ten percentage points to 31%.
Schulz’s appearance is considered timely in Germany. Voters have been looking for a more palatable alternative to the anti-immigration party Alternative For Germany (AfD), who have been hit by recent personality clashes and controversies. Schulz’s pro-European views, wealth of experience and humble origins have made him a popular AfD alternative.
What this represents for businesses may be mixed. Schulz is pro-EU, and has spoken widely of strengthening Europe’s economy and bargaining power with the Trumpian slogan MEGA (Make Europe Great Again). But he has also widely trumpeted the importance of unions, and wants to increase pensions and provide more holiday time for workers.
Of course, Merkel is not finished yet. Her Christian Democratic Union party has maintained the same approval rating as the SPD, and her message of German consolidation and greater vetting of Germany’s massive immigrant population have won some plaudits.
After two terms in office however, the public are naturally fatigued, and Schulz represents an interesting new choice. As Europe politics continues to diverge on both sides of the spectrum, we will continue to bring you the latest news on what this means for European business.
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