Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament, is to stand down from one of the EU’s most powerful posts and run for parliament in Germany in a move that could lead to a run against Angela Merkel for the chancellorship in elections next year.
In a decision that has shaken the political world in Brussels and Berlin, the long-serving parliament chief will stand as an MP for the Social Democratic party in North Rhine-Westphalia and potentially position himself to lead the SPD in next autumn’s parliamentary elections as its chancellor candidate.
The move could also pave the way for Mr Schulz, 60, to secure a top German government post early next year by taking over as foreign minister from Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who is set to become federal president.
Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker had pressed his fellow conservatives in Parliament to let Schulz stay on in the interests of stability following Britain’s vote in June to leave the bloc. He denied threatening to resign if Schulz were forced out but said on Thursday he “regretted” him leaving.
The conservative leader in Parliament, Manfred Weber from Merkel’s Bavarian allies, said his group would choose a nominee for speaker next month. Frenchman Alain Lamassoure and Mairead McGuinness of Ireland declared their candidacies.
Weber, 44, has been cited himself as Schulz’s successor, a position that could raise his profile for a future career in Germany and something Schulz also used to his advantage.
Weber did not, however, rule out that his group might back a “consensus candidate” from another of the mainstream, pro-EU blocs in the chamber, which include liberals and greens. That could dampen complaints of a centre-right lock on institutions while, as Weber said, maintaining a centrist front against the chamber’s vocal minority of eurosceptic and extremist parties.
Weber’s centre-left counterpart said he would resist a conservative sweep of EU jobs: “A right-wing monopoly on the EU institutions would be unacceptable,” said Italian Gianni Pittella. “Political balance must be ensured and respected.”
Speculation that Schulz would return to German politics grew after Merkel’s grand coalition with the Social Democrat SPD backed Schulz’s party ally Steinmeier to take over in February as Germany’s figurehead president. Senior SPD members see Schulz as the party’s clear favourite to succeed Steinmeier.
Whoever takes over the role will have an overflowing in-tray as Germany tries to unite a divided post-Brexit EU, contain an assertive Russia and work out a new relationship with Washington under Donald Trump. Schulz has said Trump’s election as president will make work harder for the EU.
Schulz ran a bookshop in his native Aachen in western Germany before entering the European Parliament in 1994. As speaker of the body since 2012, he used new powers granted by the 2009 Lisbon Treaty to increase the legislature’s role in EU politics and has used the post to raise his profile at home.