Schulz picked to challenge Merkel 

Schulz picked to challenge Merkel 

Martin Schulz in the Strasbourg parliament.

Germany’s Social Democrats party (SPD) has chosen former European Parliament president Martin Schulz to become the party’s new head and the main challenger to Chancellor Angela Merkel in September’s general election.

Schulz, 61, who has emerged in recent weeks as Germany’s version of the US left-wing senator, Bernie Sanders, earning support with young voters and the nickname “Fresh Wind”. He secured all 605 votes at a party conference in Berlin on Sunday. 

Schulz served as a provincial mayor for several years and then made his career in European politics.

“This is an overwhelming moment for me and for us all,” Schulz told the conference. 

On Sunday, a poll suggested a left-wing alliance led by the SPD could unseat Merkel at the parliamentary elections expected on September 24. 

A poll said Merkel’s right-of-centre alliance had 33-per-cent support, with the SPD on 32 per cent. If the SPD were to join forces with the leftist Die Linke, which had 8-per-cent support, and the Greens, who were also on about 8 per cent, it would have enough parliamentarians to form a coalition government.

SPD support surged in January when Schulz announced his intention to stand for party leader, and Sigmar Gabriel, its veteran leader, stepped down. The party’s poll ratings have since risen by about 10 per cent and it has enjoyed a significant membership increase, after years of declining.

Merkel has been in Washington where Donald Trump’s understanding of Nato financing is being scrutinised after he claimed that Germany owed the US “vast sums of money”.

He tweeted “the United States must be paid more for the powerful, and very expensive, defense it provides to Germany”.

German defence minister Ursula von der Leyen replied that “there is no debt account at Nato”.

She said: “Defence spending also goes into UN peacekeeping missions, into our European missions and into our contribution to the fight against IS terrorism.”

Ivo Daalder, ex-US ambassador to Nato, tweeted in disagreement. 

“I’m sorry, Mr President but that is not how Nato works,” Daalder said, pointing out that Nato spending was not a “financial transaction” between countries but a joint commitment to spend 2 per cent of GDP on defence. 

The large military commitment to Nato was not a “favour to Europe” but a mutually beneficial arrangement, because keeping Europe “whole and free” was vital to US interests.  

Germany currently spends an estimated 1.18 per cent of GDP on defence. 

Trump’s rhetoric on Nato appears to have softened since the election campaign, when he rejected it as “obsolete”. 

Picture credit: Wikimedia

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