The Lisbon Treaty, which entered into force the 1st December 2009, considerably increased the powers of the European Parliament. Martin Schulz was elected President of this strengthened Parliament in January 2012. According to the new disposition, the European Council should take into account the majorities in the EP when choosing the President of the Commission. In this context, the political groups in the Parliament decided to designate candidates to the Commission’s presidency in the 2014 elections.
In the case of the Party of the European Socialists, chaired by the former Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergey Stanishev since November 2011, the issue of the candidacy for presidency of the Commission was quite clear from the beginning. Martin Schulz was virtually unchallenged and was the natural candidate to the presidency of the Commission; he was also part of the presidency of the European Socialist Party (PES).
The PES, with 32 member parties from all the member states, applied the schedule meticulously designed in 2011 for the selection and the announcement of the candidate. Formally, it was a process of primary elections open to the competition of precandidates.
The deadline for submission of nominations was open throughout the month of October 2013, but Martin Schulz’s candidacy on the 10th was the only one that was presented in the end. During months, a number of alternative candidate options were shuffled, such as the former Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning Schmidt, the Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans, and the Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Pascal Lamy from France, among others.
The 6th November 2013, the presidency of the PES met in Brussels and confirmed that Schulz was their “designated candidate”. The party president, Swoboda, highlighted that the nominee had always “represented a fair and socially balanced view of Europe”. The following four months Schulz undertook a series of meetings with the members of national parties. Schulz said that he would have the chance to “listen to the ideas and concerns” of his European counterparts.
The 26th January 2014, Schulz was also elected head of the SPD list for the European elections with the support of the 97,3% of the delegates present at a conference in Berlin.
The 12th February, Schulz, in an official visit to Israel and after an unequivocal defence on the “right of existence and defence” of this state, voiced the Palestinian complaint of the unequal distribution of water in the autonomous and occupied territories in his speech in the Plenum of the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament.
Afterwards, Naftali Bennet, minister in Benyamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government declared: “We cannot ignore the lies. We will not accept moral lessons based in lies against Israel in the Israeli Parliament. And especially not in German”. Netanyahu himself, with a more diplomatic tone, expressed his disagreement with what was said by his European guest.
The 1st of March, Schulz officially became the “common candidate” of the European socialists by the decision of an extraordinary congress held in Rome. His candidacy was approved by 368 convention delegates out of 404.
In his acceptance speech, Schulz claimed that: “I want to be the first president of the Commission that is not nominated by an agreement in an office in Brussels, but the result of a democratic vote (…) as President of the Commission, my first priority will be jobs, good jobs. During the next five years, every action we undertake in the EU must answer a simple question: is that going to help to create a job?”
As a candidate to succeed Durão Barroso, Schulz has three main rivals: the former Luxembourg Prime Minister and former president of the EPP group Jean-Claude Junker, as the EPP candidate; the former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstad, the ALDE candidate.; and the leader of the Leftist opposition in Greece, Alexis Tsipras, candidate for the European Left.
Regarding the European Parliament elections in Germany, which sent 96 MEP’s to the EP, the socialist head of the list faced David McAllister for the CDU, Rebecca Harms for the Greens, Gabi Zimmer for the Left and the count Alexander Lambsdorff for the FDP. In the current term, the CDU-CSU had 42 MEP’s against the 23 of the SPD. The CDU-CSU has won over the social democrats in every European election since 1979.
Martin Schulz, married with two children, has been awarded among other national awards, with the Cross of Merit (First Class) of the Federal Republic of Germany (2006), the Order of the Legion of Honour of France (2010) and the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic at the rank of Grand Cross Knight (2012). He also received honorary doctorates from the Kaliningrad State Technical University (2009) and the National School of Political Science and Public Administration, Bucharest (2012). In 2013 he published the essay Der gefesselte Riese. Europas letzte Chance.
(Update to April 2014)