Martin Schulz is a ‘threat’ to Merkel’s 12 year rule

Thomas Oppermann
Thomas Oppermann

Thomas Oppermann, Social Democratic Party (SPD) parliamentary chairman, says Germany needs a new leader after nearly 12 years of Merkel rule. Mr Oppermann, whose SPD party forms the grand coalition with Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, has hailed Martin Schulz as the man to beat the Chancellor and see off the rising tide of populism in the September election. 

Support for the centre-left SPD has surged since former European Parliament president Mr Schulz was announced as its candidate in January. With Germans fed up of Ms Merkel’s open door migrant policy and controversial U-turns which has seen more than one million refugees arrive in the country in recent years, Mr Oppermann says German voters want a change. He told “Martin Schulz is a legitimate threat, he is an alternative. “Many people do want a change and a change in the government definitely.  “Merkel is 12 years in office at the end of this electoral period and many people think and believe that is about enough.”  Ms Merkel's conservatives held a narrow opinion poll lead on Friday over the SPD. The Ipsos poll put the conservative bloc at 32 per cent while the SPD was at 30 per cent after several recent polls have shown the SPD, the junior partner in the ruling coalition to be ahead. As momentum for Mr Schulz continues to build, the SPD wants to offer an alternative to the generally unpopular 'grand coalition' between Germany's biggest parties and has held exploratory talks with the environmentalist Greens and the far-left Linke. Dietmar Bartsch, who heads the Linke party group in parliament, said: "With Martin Schulz, the SPD has a real candidate for chancellor. A change of government is possible."

Anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) came third in the Ipsos poll with 12 per cent, comfortably above the five per cent threshold needed to enter parliament. The AfD have seized on criticism of Ms Merkel’s open door migrant policy to make gains in local elections. But Mr Oppermann says if the Christian Democrats cannot hold off the wave of populism, then Mr Schulz can with his push for social justice.  He said: “Populism in Germany was always there but it really developed strongly during the refugee crisis when a million refugees came to Germany. They used it to mobilise people and stir up anxieties and fear and we have a situation which is difficult. In Germany we thought a right wing party would never again be that strong.  “What is the best means to fight populism and a populist party like the AFD? The best thing is optimism, the ability to cope with the problems and to create a situation where people cannot be against one another. 

“Martin Schulz put three things in front; first we are for a united Europe, we will fight for a united Europe and we don’t want Europe to fall apart. Second is we will defend our democracy. It was the British, Americans and French governments after World War Two that established democracy in Germany and we have learned our lesson. We will defend our democracy, we fight of more respect for people. Democracy is based on discussion not hatred and violence. The third one is more justice. Even though we live in an economically strong country in Germany we have the lowest unemployment rate and highest level of occupation ever, we have a balanced budget and even a surplus in the budget. Many people feel that it is time for more justice in many respects. If you have a social stability so people can have an education, can have a professional education to have the chance to find job and are able to pay for decent housing that makes people strong and perhaps people not to be secured by populist and right-wing groups.”

The SPD parliamentary chairman has spoken out in favour of sending refugees arriving on boats back to North Africa and strengthening the EU’s external borders as Ms Merkel comes under fire for backtracking on her controversial open-door policy. In recent weeks Germany has deported nearly 100 migrants to Afghanistan with protesters branding the move inhumane and irresponsible. So is Ms Merkel’s handling of the migrant crisis the nail in the coffin for her leadership?  Mr Opperman said: “Many people might think so. It is very complicated because of the security situation in Afghanistan, there are areas where there is no jeopardy and no fear of terror but in those areas you cannot send people who ethnically and tribally do not get along. It is very complicated and every case should be considered individually.”


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