Martin Schulz is taking on Angela Merkel in the German election 2017
Former European Parliament President Martin Schulz is a famous face in European politics but he is relatively unknown in Germany.
His powerful rival, Angela Merkel, is affectionately known as Mutti – the German word for Mummy – by many Germans.
Not only has she served as German Chancellor for more than a decade but she is widely seen as the most powerful woman in the world.
Nevertheless her firm hold on power in Germany seems to be faltering amid outrage over her open-door migration policy.
Mr Schulz needs to act quickly to establish his profile in Germany if he is going to have even a chance of winning the federal election in September.
The Eurocrat is standing for the Social Democrats (SPD), who are currently in a grand coalition with Mrs Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU and CSU).
Mr Schulz plans to focus on social justice and equality, according to Sophia Besch, a research fellow at the Centre for European Reform (CER).
“He’s going to have to prove himself over the next couple of months. He is an unknown quantity in German domestic politics,” she said.
Ms Besch said that Mr Schulz could revitalise the party because he is a “relatively new face” but may have trouble appealing to its core supporters.
She added: “His strengths are his experience in Brussels, his appeal as a passionate politician and good speaker, and, despite his long years in Brussels, being a ‘fresh face’ in domestic politics.
“His personal polling numbers are high right now, but his challenge will be to establish a profile and make voters aware of his political priorities over the coming months.
“He is under time pressure, federal elections are in September, and the Social Democrats polling numbers are low.”
If the Eurocrat wants to defeat Merkel, he will have to unite the left and counter the growing support for the populist party Alternative for Germany (AfD).
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Angela Merkel in pictures
Tue, November 29, 2016
Angela Merkel has served as German Chancellor since 2005 and Leader of the Christian Democratic Union since 2000. We take a look at her political career in pictures.
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German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends the gala for the 200th anniversary of Werner von Siemens on November 29, 2016 at the historic headquarters of Siemens in Berlin
The anti-migrant AfD is riding the wave of right-wing populism against the EU. In contrast, Mr Schulz represents the EU and all that it stands for.
The SDP has been broadly supportive of Mrs Merkel’s decision to open Germany’s doors to refugees, which has sparked anger and protests.
Piotr Buras, head of the Warsaw office of the European Council on Foreign Relations, said the SDP could not turn the outrage over migration to its advantage.
“The SDP support Merkel’s line even more strongly than her own party,” he said, noting that they have suffered by being in coalition for so long.
Ms Besch agreed that the SDP has “come out weaker than they came in” to the grand coalition with the CDU.
The latest ‘Deutschland Trend’ poll by ARD shows that the Christian Democrats are still well ahead with 37 per cent support.
The Social Democrats trailing behind at 20 per cent support, according to the poll which asks how people would vote if the election was held today.