Schulz Yet Another Inside Outsider
The traditional parties and ruling elites across Europe are doing their best to adapt to the populist threat by coming up with their own “outsider” candidates. In France, as I’ve blogged before, it’s Emanuel Macron who is trying this by pretending to be an independent when he’s remarkably well connected to all sorts of government sorts. In Germany the Socialists aren’t even bothering to set up a new organization, they are just parachuting in an MEP as their “outsider” because their previous leader was going down in flames. Martin Schulz, who was President of the European Parliament until he resigned the role to run as leader of the SPD back home, is mostly known to me for being the target of various insults by various people such as Silvio Berlusconi, who likened him to a concentration camp trusty, and Nigel Farage (such as this one when he got the President job in 2012):
To be honest, I share Mr Farage’s opinion of Mr Schulz. Apart from various political machinations in the mostly pointless European parliament, Mr Schulz has done next to nothing showing public capabilities and has a bare minimum of experience outside politics. He had a potential career as a footballer that faded when he was seriously injured. He had some kind of job in the booktrade, but again not one that appears to have been particularly notable. His only non EU political jobs were as a council member in and then mayor of Würselen, a small town near Aachen. There is one thing though: he has been active as one of the shadowy cabal pulling the levers of power in the SPD for a while though.
Schulz has been getting a lot of positive coverage in Germany and Europe as he campaigns to be Chancellor, this despite saying in an interview as recently as May last year (german) that he had no ambitions to head the SPD in this year’s elections. That interview, BTW, shows Schulz to be a complete Federast, seeking a single European government ruling the existing nations. A relevant (google-translated) extract:
Martin Schulz:… The EU needs to be reformed. We need a new economic order and a deepening of the Eurozone. A monetary union with 19 different labor market budget and investment policies can not do well. This must be more closely interlocked and matched. […] No matter how [the Brexit referendum] goes, we need a Eurozone reform.
World on Sunday: What happens if we do not tackle it?
Martin Schulz: They always ask me: What happens if …? If, for example, we do not have a different tax system with minimum tax rates in Europe that limit tax dumping and tax cuts in the medium term, if the States continue to claim the tax responsibility alone, and if we do not agree on common rules to end the tax cessation, We get an even deeper sense of injustice in society.
He is correct that without pan-European integration the EU is in big trouble. What he completely fails to observe is that the population of Europe, despite about a half century (depending on when they joined) of EU membership, fails to want a single European state. In fact may of them are quite attached to their existing nations (or perhaps in the cases of Scotland and Catalunya would-be nations) and don’t want to see them swallowed up into a United States of Europe. This of course is where the whole European project hits a problem. The populace simply doesn’t want it and they resent having it pushed on them.
The reason why he’s getting all this coverage is that Chancellor Angela Merkel is looking vulnerable. Her open doors immigration policy is extremely unpopular and, overall, her CDU looks tired. As the Spiegel link above points out, she only just got the backing of the Bavarian CSU and that backing still doesn’t sound particularly solid.
What is however notably absent from all the coverage is the real outsider party – the AfD. The German MSM seems to be doing its best to pretend that the AfD doesn’t exist or, at least, isn’t a viable threat. The opinion polls suggest this is the case with the AfD on about 9% (both CDU/CSU and SPD are at ~30%) but while Schulz has certainly helped the SPD return to be on roughly level pegging with Merkel’s CDU and allies, he doesn’t seem to be generating long lasting enthusiasm. And indeed those same polls report that he is not expected to be successful:
Despite the SPD’s recent wave of support in the wake of Schulz’s nomination, a majority of people surveyed do not believe that the SPD politician will oust current German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the general elections in the fall.
According to the poll, 50 percent doubt that he will make it to the chancellery while 36 percent firmly believe he will not.
In a possible sign that the “Schulz effect” may be losing steam, 57 percent found Schulz’s campaign promise to support “hard-working people” to be “untrustworthy,” while 36 percent said that they trusted his statement.
There’s still half a year to go before the actual elections and lots of time for the dirt to come out on Schulz – he’s already got MEP payment problems that sound remarkably similar to Marine Le Pen’s ones, for example – but I doubt that will be anything other than noise. The real issue will be whether Germans believe in a future with a strong and strengthening EU or not. Unlike the various pro-EU members of the German MSM, I’m not convinced. While I doubt that the AfD will be the majority party I think that there is a lot of unhappiness in German related to the Euro (and the continuous bailing out of Greece and the banks lending to Greece) and the refugee issue. The latter wasn’t originally a pan EU issue; Merkel did it on her own, but the EU elites jumped up and supported her so now they are tarred with the same brush. I’m sure there are a huge (yuuuuge) number of shy-AfD supporters who won’t admit their feelings to the pollsters or anyone else until they actually go and vote.
If, as is quite likely, the Dutch and the French elections turn out to be a watershed for the acceptability of the “far right” then the AfD is likely to do far better than the 14.2% of the vote it got in last year’s regional election in Berlin. The only way they don’t is if the party fails to hold together. It is unclear to me how likely this is, but the recent speech by Björn Höcke has opened up a rift. From my external viewpoint the speech, while defensible (it sounds a lot like various speeches by Abe and other LDP figures in Japan), was unwise because it was obviously going to be misinterpreted by the MSM who have been aching to tie the NeoNazi label onto AfD. The fact that the party now has to come up with a clear position instead of some strategically useful vagueness may be a problem, but in the end the voters are voting not for history but for the future and AfD offers a very different future to that proposed by all the other parties.
PS This Spiked article is very well worth reading.
The Shadow of the Olive Tree