BRUSSELS (AP) — The president of the European Parliament announced Thursday that he will leave his post and go into German politics, where he could become the main opponent to Chancellor Angela Merkel in next year's elections.
SPD Socialist Martin Schulz made the impromptu statement at the EU legislature. He has been European Parliament President since 2012 and said that deciding against seeking a third term, "didn't come easy." The 28-nation EU has come under increasing pressure since the 2008 economic crisis and Schulz said "a lot of trust was lost."
Yet, since Germany is ever more the fundamental cornerstone of the EU, Schulz feels the EU cause can be served from Berlin, too.
"My commitment to the European project is unwavering. From now on I will be fighting for this project from the national level, but my values do not change," he said.
His decision leaves open who will succeed him. Most likely, it would be someone from the Christian-Democrat EPP group, the largest in parliament. The EPP, however, already has the EU Council presidency with Donald Tusk and the EU Commission presidency with Jean-Claude Juncker.
EPP President Manfred Weber said his group would definitely nominate a candidate to succeed Schulz but added that he was ready to compromise to keep anti-EU and extremist forces at bay in the legislature.
"It is a major responsibility for us," he said. "The basic fact is that three or four major groups want to have a credible candidate who can come from the middle of the house."
The European Parliament, long a largely symbolic institution has steadily gained in importance over recent years and now is a potent force to influence EU policies in many sectors.
In Germany, Schulz's SPD is currently a junior partner in the coalition led by Merkel, who announced last week she would seek a fourth term as chancellor.
The party is badly in need of a strong candidate since Merkel has reigned supreme in national politics since 2005. Party chairman Sigmar Gabriel still has to decide whether to run against Merkel, opening the way for Schulz to make a challenge. Schulz is a strong speaker, rarely shy to speak his convictions.
Recent polls have indicate that SPD voters think Schulz would have a better chance against Merkel than Gabriel.
The 60-year-old has been an SPD member for over 40 years and was mayor of Wuerselen, near Aachen in western Germany, before moving to the European Parliament.