BLOG: Martin Schulz – is he really an alternative to Angela Merkel?

Martin Schulz, February 2017, Credit: SPD Saar

The SPD chancellor candidate is supposed to bring new momentum into German politics. But his actions as the president of the European Parliament raises doubts.

Finally!

Finally, one would like to shout, Germany’s Social Democrats are owning up to their responsibilities. With Martin Schulz, the new top man from Brussels, the SPD – for the first time in 13 years – has re-established itself as a real alternative to the eternal chancellor and her Christian Union.

More equity in wages and taxes, a clear edge against Trump, a democratic Europe in solidarity – Schulz strikes the right tone and the citizens listen. Two surveys and an increasing number of party members indicate how widespread the desire for a true SPD is. This is a left-wing popular party, which boldly opposes the menacing uneven distribution of wealth, influence and life chances. Much to the dismay of those who redistribute from bottom to top and glorify this as “modern economic policy”, as once Gerhard Schröder and his entourage did.

If this were to happen, it would be an essential gain for democracy, even if Schulz and his party were to lose out.

Nothing is more dangerous to the democratic constitution of a country than if vast scores of citizens think that all established parties practice the same policy in favor of the elites. Above all, it is this sentiment that drives voters to the right-wing and neo-nationalist populists: it brought about the Brexit, as well as a U.S. President Trump. And it is this mood that must be avoided, and not only in Germany.

But is Martin Schulz the right man for this task? Will he deliver what he now promises? Unfortunately, his previous political practice arouses doubts.

As a member of the European Parliament and President of Parliament, the new contender to the Chancellor’s Office has not proved to be a champion of fiscal justice, solidarity and democracy. Nevertheless, he likes to complain that it is not acceptable “if the small bakery pays decently its taxes, but the global coffee company parks its money in tax havens”.

But after revelations that corporations evaded tax via sweetheart deals received in Luxembourg, Schulz preferred to stick to his private grand coalition with Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and sabotaged the launch of an investigative committee to protect the Luxembourg ex-Premier against inconvenient questions and exposés.

His dealings with the pre-democratic constitution of the EU were also contradictory.

Schulz likes to demand that “the Commission has to be rebuilt into a real European government, which is subject to the control of the European Parliament”. However, he remained idle when this Parliament was systematically degraded to a mere facade within the framework of the crisis regime in the Eurozone.

Moreover, Troika technocrats from the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission have been acting as an intergovernmental institution beyond all democratic control, enforcing massive wage decreases and abolishing collective bargaining in open breach of the EU Treaty.
Worse even: Schulz, in spite of playing the advocate of European cohesion, uncritically supports the course of EU-wide budgetary cuts promoted by Germany’s Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble. But this is one of the main causes for the division of Europe.

A recent comprehensive study by economists from the universities of Michigan and Lausanne demonstrated once more how counterproductive austerity policies were during the economic crisis. Without the coercive measures imposed on the five crisis countries of the Euro zone, their economic performance would now be 17% higher, with almost the same level of public debt.

State expenditures are a major driving force for economy as a whole and, therefore, tax revenues – a fact that even traditionally neo-liberal experts from the OECD, the IMF and the EU Commission have accepted. Only the Germans and their finance minister hold naively to the belief that states budgets could be managed like a private household. That is why they prefer to leave their infrastructure rotten and nurture, due to the lack of internal demand, a grotesquely high current account surplus of more than eight percent of the total economic output, which inevitably produces deficits and indebtedness in other countries.
Martin Schulz knows this.

But clearly, his will to educate voters is less protruding than his fear of the headwind threatening anyone who questions the dogmas of Schäuble and his many supporters. To fight, though, against this destructive misbelief would be of essence to overcome Europe’s identity crises.

“Making mistakes is not dishonorable,” is a motto of the new chancellor hopeful for the SPD. It is only important to correct them once they are recognized, he promises.

If Schulz were to apply this principle – not only to the misguided social reforms of the Schröder era, but also to his own European practice – then he could succeed in something great. An election victory with this agenda would not only lead the German, but also the whole European Social Democracy out of its valley of tears. The Neo-Nationalists would have no chance anymore.