The SPD chief has made a major U-turn. After initially ruling out another grand coalition with Angela Merkel’s conservatives, the former European Parliament president could now set to be the new German foreign minister.
Martin Schulz, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) leader about to sign another coalition deal with Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), is no stranger to the vagaries of political fortune.
The man who once failed to graduate from high school, only to rise to the European parliament presidency, has led his party to historic lows in the German opinion polls – and yet now looks set to take on a top ministerial post in Merkel’s next cabinet as the new German foreign minister, according to reports from the DPA news agency and the Bild newspaper.
Schulz has deep roots in the small city of Würselen just north of Aachen in the far west of Germany. He served the city of 38,000 as mayor for 11 years from 1987 until 1998, and still has a home there today. After gaining a qualification in bookselling in his youth, he also ran a bookshop with his sister, and once described reading as an “elixir of life” that helped him through a dark period in his youth.
But despite his local public service, Schulz was always known more as a European politician than a domestic one. He joined the European parliament in 1994, rising to leader of the SPD’s national group in Europe and the head of the EU socialists’ block. He was the socialists’ leading candidate in the 2014 European election, and ended up serving as the president of the European Parliament from 2012 to 2017.
It was only after this precipitous rise that he returned to Germany early last year to accept his party leadership and the candidacy to challenge Chancellor Angela Merkel in September’s election.
‘I was a pig’
Born in 1955 as the son of a policeman, Schulz was the youngest of five children. He dreamed of a career as a football player, but a knee injury put an end to those aspiration,— a blow that led him to alcoholism in his late teens and failure to complete high school. In the mid-1970s, at 20, he was unemployed for a year.
Today, Schulz speaks openly about his past: “I was a pig, and not a very nice student,” he once said.
But he was also active in the SPD throughout, and rose to become his city’s mayor at the age of 32 — the youngest city leader in all of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Schulz has also been a member of the SPD’s national party leadership since 1999, serving on the executive board and executive committee. He has been known to proudly stress that his 18 years there make him the party’s “oldest serving member.