Thursday 26 April 2018

Merkel could face new challenger as EU parliament chief heads home

German Chancellor Angela Merkel standing in front of the newly erected Christmas tree at the Chancellory in Berlin. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
German Chancellor Angela Merkel standing in front of the newly erected Christmas tree at the Chancellory in Berlin. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Carole DeWintours in Brussels

European Parliament president Martin Schulz is returning to German politics, raising the prospect he may challenge Angela Merkel as chancellor and prompting speculation of a reshuffle in European Union institutions.

Mr Schulz, a Social Democrat, told a news conference he would not stand for re-election as speaker of the EU legislature and instead campaign for a parliamentary seat in Berlin next year.

He made no comment on speculation he may succeed departing German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier or become the SPD's candidate to challenge the conservative Ms Merkel's bid for a fourth term as chancellor in September's parliamentary election.

Mr Schulz, 60, had been pushing for a third 30-month term as EU parliament president in defiance of a deal that he make way for a speaker from the centre-right, the chamber's biggest group.

Should the conservatives, who have formed an effective grand coalition in Brussels with Mr Schulz's centre-left, claim the presidency in January, all three main EU political bodies would be headed by the centre-right - a possibility that has raised talk of change at the European Commission and European Council.

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker had pressed his fellow conservatives in parliament to let Mr Schulz stay on in the interests of stability following Britain's vote in June to leave the bloc.

He denied earlier this week that he had threatened to resign himself if Mr Schulz were forced out.

Mr Juncker, who said yesterday that he regretted Mr Schulz's departure, has a five-year mandate running until October 2019.

He has broad support among member governments to stay on - though not from his home country, where his opponents are now in power.

The conservative leader in parliament, Manfred Weber from Ms Merkel's Bavarian Christian Social Union allies, told a news conference after Mr Schulz's announcement that his group would choose a candidate for speaker next month.

Mr Weber, 44, has been cited as a successor himself, a move that could sharply raise his profile for a future career in Germany - something Mr Schulz used to his advantage.

Speculation that Mr Schulz would return to German politics grew after Ms Merkel's grand coalition government with the SPD backed Mr Schulz's party ally Mr Steinmeier to take over in February as Germany's figurehead president.

German media have tipped Mr Schulz as Mr Steinmeier's successor as foreign minister.

Polls put Ms Merkel in a very strong position to win a fourth term, despite a loss of support notably over her welcome for a million asylum seekers last year. The SPD trails badly but could end up in a new grand coalition under Ms Merkel.

Irish Independent

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