SPD Plans What's Your Plan, Martin?

If Martin Schulz is serious about becoming Germany's next chancellor, Angela Merkel's chief rival owes it to the German public to lay out his plans for government, writes Handelsblatt's chief political editor.
Martin Schulz owes it to the German public to lay out his plans for government.

Martin Schulz has probably made his first major political error.

Angela Merkel's center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) had already set the trap. Officials said the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) candidate for chancellor didn‘t have much to offer in the way of content – only “schmooze.” This week, Mr. Schulz called for his SPD party to delay presenting its election manifesto until just before the beginning of the parliamentary summer break. That puts a different light on what, up to now, had merely been party-political sniping.

Given the delay, the CDU can hardly be accused of conducting a targeted smear campaign against Mr. Schulz. The public just wants to know what the new SPD man stands for. It will be none too easy for Mr. Schulz to explain to Germany's voters how he proposes to conduct an election campaign devoid of content for the next few months.

There are many questions, especially to do with taxation policy, which the SPD has not yet clarified within its own ranks.

Mr. Schulz's delay might be well received in the Social Democrats' political strategy bunker, known as the “Kampa.” But it has nothing to do with the fears and concerns of German citizens, so often invoked by Mr. Schulz.

The citizens want answers: The industrious, skilled worker wants to know if the solidarity surcharge, a tax levied on households to cover the costs of Germany's reunification, will finally be abolished. The middle management employee would also like to know if the SPD plans to raise the country's maximum tax rate or not. There are many questions, especially to do with taxation policy, which the SPD has not yet clarified within its own ranks. There are still disputes about whether a wealth tax should be included in its election program.

The postponement tactics of the potential chancellor Mr. Schulz are quite transparent. He wants to present his detailed government program at a time when half of Germany is off on vacation - and follow that up with a swift and emotive election campaign. This shows that Mr. Schulz does not take voters seriously. And, above all, that he will be forcing his party down a stony path.

The SPD was always proud to be a party with a political program. It now has to play second fiddle to a candidate‘s pursuit of power – one who hopes to play upon the public‘s worst fears of a country in decline as long as possible, without telling them what exactly he would do about it. Mr. Schulz talks as if Germany were fighting against total collapse. But there is no word from him about who specifically will be affected by the downturn. Just telling everyone his neighbor is a fireman, as an example of his working-class credentials, is hardly enough for him to succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor.

Martin Schulz is currently having his own Karl-Theodor Guttenberg moment. Not since the hype surrounding the former CDU bigwig, who had once been expected to replace Ms. Merkel but was derailed by a plagiarism scandal, have we seen such devotion to a politician from sections of the electorate, the media and the pollsters. That kind of hype is self-perpetuating. The boom feeds the boom. Or so it seems.


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