quarta-feira, 13 de julho de 2016
Martin Schulz’s presidential agonies
Martin Schulz’s presidential agonies
Apart from Jean-Claude Juncker, hardly anyone else wants the Parliament chief to stay on in 2017.
By MAÏA DE LA BAUME 7/13/16, 5:33 AM CET Updated 7/13/16, 5:57 AM CET
What should have been relatively good news for Martin Schulz — an endorsement of sorts from Jean-Claude Juncker, who said the Parliament president should stick around for another term in the interest of European “stability” — has turned into another headache for the ambitious German as he plots his political future.
The statement from Juncker about his “friend” Schulz surprised and angered many in the European Parliament, who have been expecting the assembly’s president to step aside in January 2017. Doing so would fulfill the terms of a power-sharing deal between the Parliament’s two main political groups that Schulz agreed to when he began his current term as president in 2014.
But it would also force Schulz from a level of political prominence he has worked hard to cultivate. His post-Parliament president career choices, apart from entertaining potential offers from lecture agents, think tanks and investment banks, are fairly limited: to step down from the presidency and return to being an MEP, or try to find a role in German domestic politics.
The German option has proven challenging. The one attractive, immediate opening was to run as the Social Democrats’ (SPD) nominee for the chancellorship in Germany’s general elections in fall of 2017. Until a few months ago that’s a job no one envied the natural candidate for, current SPD head Sigmar Gabriel, given that polls suggest another defeat against Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU.
The polls are slightly better now for the SPD, and as Die Welt reported Monday, suddenly Gabriel seems more interested in running himself. That means Schulz would have to try to push aside someone he calls a “friend,” and possibly run against other viable contenders.
That’s left Schulz to focus on keeping the Parliament presidency. He’s been working behind the scenes for months to convince colleagues that he should stay on in the role, arguing that it is important not to let all three EU presidencies be held by center-right politicians (European Council President Donald Tusk is, like Juncker, a member of the European People’s Party).
The Juncker comment, in a rollicking joint interview the two politicians gave to German magazine Spiegel last week, was the first real public acknowledgement of Schulz’s campaign to stay on, and was pitched as part of a need to show solidarity and preserve stability among EU leaders in the wake of the Brexit vote.
Rather than solidify Schulz’s ambition to stay on past his presidential sell-by date, the backing from Juncker may have helped fuel more opposition to him — even among the audience it was clearly intended to influence, the Commission chief’s own allies in the assembly’s center-right European People’s Party bloc. Instead of opening the door for Schulz to keep the post, it may have closed it further.
Only a few days before the Spiegel interview, Germans in the EPP said they would insist on the group taking over the Parliament presidency. The issue was the subject of a discussion among leading members of the EPP from several countries at a group meeting in Strasbourg on Wednesday. After the Juncker comment was made public on Friday, EPP politicians reacted angrily and dug in further. They not only said they would hold Schulz to his word, they also criticized Juncker, one of their own, for overstepping his role as Commission president.
“What is important to us is to replace Schulz,” said Gunnar Hökmark, a prominent Swedish member of the EPP, the largest political group in the European Parliament. “This has to do with democracy.”
Added Alain Lamassoure, leader of the French delegation of the EPP and a potential contender to replace Schulz, “It is not the president of the Commission who elects the president of the Parliament. It is the Parliament who elects the president of the Commission.”
The EPP’s leader in the Parliament, Manfred Weber, told German paper Bild am Sonntag that while he appreciated Juncker’s “advice,” the party expected to stick to the agreement to take over the presidency in 2017. He also got in a little dig at Juncker, too. “It is for the European Parliament to elect its president as well as the Commission president though, not the other way around,” Weber said.
An EPP source said Juncker’s comments had prompted talk among some MEPs about collecting signatures for a motion of no confidence in Juncker if the Commission president “continues sticking out his neck” for Schulz.
“They want to send out a signal, saying ‘Juncker, don’t do this, this is not very clever, otherwise we will withdraw support from you,'” the EPP source said. “There’s a lot of resentment about his comments. For us, they are too close.”
Many in the assembly acknowledge that Schulz has helped boost the image of the Parliament as a political force.
Lamassoure said the move toward a censure motion was only a “threat” and wouldn’t go further. “It only reflects the reaction of irritation against that Spiegel joint interview.”
Others like Hökmark said Juncker should avoid having “a special relation” with Schulz on the question of leadership of the assembly.
“It is important to defend the integrity of the Commission and of the Parliament,” Hökmark said.
Another EPP source warned that if Schulz doesn’t stand behind the deal, “whatever other solution is found, it would have unpredictable consequences on the future not only of the Parliament in its functioning, but also on the European Commission itself, because it is supported by a political majority that would blow up.”
Schulz’s office did not respond to a request for comment about his plans for 2017 and beyond. But in recent months he has worked hard behind the scenes courting key MEPs in a bid to keep the Parliament presidency he has held since 2012. Many in the assembly acknowledge that during that time Schulz has helped boost the image of the Parliament as a political force.
But there is no shortage of contenders to replace him as president and — apart from members of his own Socialists & Democrats party, and apparently Juncker — little support for letting him stay in the post. Leaders of the other main political groups in the assembly, including the EPP and the Greens, oppose letting him have a third term, as do some key members of the centrist liberal bloc.
The selection process for the January 2017 election is likely to start in the fall. Under their power-sharing deal, the EPP and S&D blocs have agreed to support each other’s candidate for a two-and-a-half-year term.
The names of the potential EPP contenders for the presidency, including Antonio Tajani, Lamassoure and Mairead McGuinness, have been circulating in Parliament corridors for months, though apart from Lamassoure, all are coy about their efforts so far.
Herbert Reul and Angelika Niebler, two German EPP members, said their group would submit a name for a new EPP president in the fall. “Schulz committed himself to stay for only half of the legislature, so he would break his word if he didn’t do so,” Reul said.
Tajani said he did not want to comment on Juncker’s endorsement of Schulz because of “institutional correctness.”
Florian Eder contributed to this article.
Maïa de La Baume