Martin Schulz is slowly approaching the end of his reign as President of the European Parliament. After more than two years, the man will finally get some peace. Will he? Not so sure. His application as the next European Commission’s President has not gone unnoticed.
Martin Schulz was born in 1955 in Hehlrath, a small German town near the border of Belgium and the Netherlands. In grammar school, he attended the Heilig Geist Gymnasium, a private catholic school run by the Spiritans. After a bookseller training, he worked in a few bookshops and publishing houses. In 1982 he opened his own bookshop in Würselen, that he owned until 1994.
Martin Schulz has been into politics since the age of 19, when he joined the Social Democratic Party in Germany. In 1987, he became the mayor of Würselen and remained in that position for 11 years. In 1994, he was elected member of the European Parliament (EP).
10 years later, he was nominated as President of the European Socialist Party. Marc Tarabella, a Belgian socialist MEP remembers his work as group President: « He brought a real coherence to the group. Even on controversial issues, where we didn’t have common opinions. He was very clever when it came to reach an agreement, even if sometimes he forced it. But he was really good at it. The European Social & Democrat Party has not always had a president who called for coherence and discipline like he did. »
As president for the socialist group, he was noticed for his passionate, often virulent speeches. Martin Schulz is actually known for his hot-tempered personality. Lively discussions, and even quarrels with other MEP’s such as Daniel Cohn-Bendit, or national personalities like Silvio Berlusconi or Jean-Marie Le Pen, have contributed to this image. An image that is not entirely false, but useful in this field. « There is a part of show in politics, says Isabelle Durant, Belgian Green MEP. As President of the Socialists, he might have pushed too hard sometimes. But it gave more visibility to the group. Now of course, as President of the European Parliament, he can’t do it anymore. Or if he does, it’s in the name of the Parliament ».
This is something generally accepted in the EP. Martin Schulz really defends the institution and embodies the position of President. He gives the Parliament a real existence and stands up for it against the governments in the Council and the EU Executive body, the European Commission.
However, when we see him in plenary sessions or in interviews, he seems to be bored. As if he was sick of being President. Could it be less exciting than what he expected?
« Well, you have to admit that plenary sessions can be boring sometimes, says Isabelle Durant. Even if you like the job. I think it must be more exciting for him when he goes to the Council to defend the EP’s point of view. Plus, as President, you must show some restraint. It must be difficult for someone so impulsive and hot-tempered ».
Of course, after having been able to strongly defend his convictions in his political group, Martin Schulz can no longer share his opinions with so much passion. « Maybe that’s what’s holding him back », says Marc Tarabella.
However, regarding the hot-tempered nature of Mr Schulz, the socialist MEP wishes to qualify these comments: « Yes, he can easily get mad. But when you get to know him, you discover a very caring and thoughtful man. He is also very human and sensitive. Including towards other people. Fighting against injustices is one of his main driving forces. »
This battle is probably a result of Schulz’s education in the Heilig Geist Gymnasium. The Spiritans always had indeed a strong missionary vocation.
Also, according to Mrs Durant, Martin Schulz is more fragile that he wants to show. And the fact that he’s a former bookseller gives him more essence. Martin Schulz is not the typical multi-graduated politician, with five degrees in Politics, Economics and Law. His professional background might give him a more sensitive vision. « I think he has a lot of inner values, says Isabelle Durant, but he doesn’t make a full use of it in his function. Of course he has a heavy responsibility as President. But it must be nice to have a drink with him and talk about books or history. He is at least more cultivated than a lot of politicians I know. With some of them, once you don’t talk about politics and football anymore, they have nothing to say! Martin Schulz is more interesting than that. »
On top of that, the man knows where he comes from, and doesn’t forget it. When he was nominated as President of the EP, a lot of his relatives were there. His brother, his football coach, the town’s priest. « All those people were important to him when he was young, says Marc Tarabella. It was a good thing that they were there when he was elected to a position with such responsibilities. I like this more emotional side of him. It was very touching. »
So yes, Martin Schulz can be pretty hot-tempered. But he is also very human. And not resentful. In 2010, after his quarrel with Daniel Cohn-Bendit, he was joking about it shortly after it happened. He knows that’s the game when you are in politics. And that is a game he plays really well. Martin Schulz is known to be a really good strategist and an excellent politician. He doesn’t make a lot of mistakes, and he has a strong federalist conviction. A conviction that he can express with a lot of strength and passion. « He is really good at it. Really bossy. Sometimes maybe even too bossy, says Marc Tarabella with a laugh. It might be his main quality but also his main fault! ».
For Isabelle Durant, one of Martin Schulz’s other qualities is his strong ambition for the European Parliament. But if it’s true, why did he applied to be the next President of the Commission? Especially when, in an interview released by StrasTV.com in 2010, he called the EP and the Commission « Ennemis héréditaires » (traditional foes). Does he really want to join the dark side of the force?
According to the Green MEP, Martin Schulz really blames José Manuel Barroso for his lack of strength and pugnacity vis-à-vis the member states. The current President is too docile in meeting the European Council. « I guess that is why Mr Schulz wants to retaliate, says Mrs Durant. He knows the Commission needs some change. We need strong people for that job. People with a real vision for Europe, who can gather different forces and have a real weight. I think he could do that. He’s not a bad candidate. »
But that’s the thing. Won’t he be too good at it? After having a puppet like Barroso in office, will the Member States accept Martin Schulz as the next President? « I’m not sure he will be the favourite, says Marc Tarabella with a smile. Precisely because of his strong personality. »
Having a hot-tempered, really good strategist President of the Commission might not be in the Council’s best interest.
Yet, it might certainly be in the EU’s best interest. Someone with such outspokenness, who’s not always politically correct, is exactly what we need today. A man who can give a strong face to Europe again. Because the citizens are sick of doublespeak and promises. They demand concrete actions. A Commission President who doesn’t hold his tongue and speaks his mind clearly, while being resilient enough to stand up to the Council, could restore the citizen’s faith in the European Union. That wind of change might be named Martin Schulz…
Photo: © European Parliament