Martin Schulz, the former president of the European Parliament who hopes to wrest the German chancellorship from Angela Merkel, will face his first test in state elections in the Saarland region.
The Times reports a sharp rise in support for the Social Democratic Party (SDP) as a result of the so-called “Schulz Effect”, with the party possibly having a chance to take control of the Saarland from Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU).
Schulz’s party is up 10 per cent in the region since this time last year and is heading into the campaign having just received a ringing, unanimous confirmation of his leadership position.
“Starting now the fight begins to take over the chancellery,” he told an SDP congress in the German capital. “It has been encouraging to see in the last few weeks that people are hopeful again that the Social Democrats have a shot.”
“My intention to pursue policies that make the lives of hard-working people a little better is apparently finding a lot of support,” Schulz said.
The Saarland’s 54-year-old prime minister, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, is seen as a regional version of Mrs. Merkel and is her close confidant.
The Times believes this gives the vote some symbolism, with the result possibly setting the tone for the federal elections.
“This is the first election since the so-called Schulz effect so it will show us whether that really translates into votes for the Social Democrats,” said Thomas Jaeger, politics professor at Cologne University. Ms. Kramp-Karrenbauer could win the vote but still be beaten by the formation of a coalition between left wing and green parties, known as a red-red-green alliance.
Schulz has not been vocal in encouraging the German-led migrant crisis, but has long-supported European integration and, should he defeat Merkel, may be hostile to the United Kingdom in the upcoming Brexit talks.
“I think there is an overwhelming majority in the European Parliament for a federal Europe,” he told the BBC in 2012. “The members of the European Parliament are… European federalists like myself … We need a kind of political union which is a real European federation.”