By Catherine Stupp
Date: 29/1/2017
Former European Parliament President Martin Schulz slammed Donald Trump’s plan to build a wall at the US-Mexico border and his support for torture during a speech today (29 January) after Social Democratic Party leaders endorsed him as their candidate to take on Angela Merkel.

“I’m sure when European politicians travel to Washington they will explain to the US government that international law and human rights also apply for Donald Trump,” Schulz said.

British Prime Minister Theresa May has come under fire for her refusal to publicly condemn Trump’s order to prevent immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries, including Syria, from entering the United States for at least 90 days.

May visited Trump in Washington last Thursday and Friday to lay the groundwork for a US-UK trade agreement. She said through a spokesman early Sunday morning that she does not agree with the order Trump signed into law one day before.

Trump’s ban on immigrants and US visa-holders took effect immediately on Saturday (28 January) and caused havoc as police and airport staff detained citizens from countries affected by the new rule who were on their way to the United States. The presidential order affects Syrians, Iranians, Iraqis, Sudanese, Libyans, Yemenis and Somalians.

Angela Merkel’s spokesman condemned Trump’s order shortly before Schulz took the podium in Berlin. Merkel will face off against Schulz in the German chancellor elections scheduled to take place on 24 September.

Schulz, who gave up his seat as European Parliament president earlier this month to run for a seat in the German Bundestag, was tipped to become the Social Democrats’ (SPD) chancellor candidate last Tuesday (24 January) in a surprise decision by the parties’ leaders.

Schulz will also replace Sigmar Gabriel as SPD chair, pending a vote at the party’s national congress on 19 March. The 61-year-old MEP’s approval ratings have eclipsed Gabriel’s since last autumn. Gabriel considered his own run for the chancellory but was instead named the new foreign minister on Friday.

Gabriel described Schulz as “a German European and a great European German” in remarks before Schulz took the stage today.

In his hour-long speech, Schulz laid out his campaign platform, which he promised will focus on fighting right-wing extremist parties, pushing for other European countries to take in their share of refugees and securing fair working conditions for Germans.

Schulz did not mention Merkel once by name, but referenced the “daily humiliation” of internal fights splitting her centre-right Christian Democrat Party. Merkel announced in November that she will seek a fourth term as chancellor.

The SPD candidate did lash out at Merkel’s conservative finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble for promising lower taxes earlier this month, after announcing a €6.2 billion federal budget surplus from 2016.

“We all know that the rich will profit from that,” Schulz said, promising instead to tackle tax evasion and appoint a Social Democrat as finance minister.

Schulz also criticised Merkel’s centre-right Bavarian sister party (CSU) for supporting Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who has rejected EU plans to share the number of refugees between member countries.

Germany should consider cutting EU funds for countries that say ‘Yes please’ to financing agricultural funds or structural funds but ‘no, thank you’ to solidarity with people who have fled, Schulz said.

Schulz was elected as an MEP in 1994 after serving as mayor of Würselen, a small city near Aachen, for eleven years. He became Parliament president in 2012 in a power-sharing agreement with the centre-right European People’s Party.

During his time as head of the Parliament, Schulz advocated for MEPs to have more power in EU policymaking–he most recently pushed for the house to take on a bigger role in approving the UK divorce deal for leaving the EU.

He was rumoured as a possible Merkel challenger for several years, although critics suggested he would be a weak candidate compared to national politicians who are better known among German voters.

Schulz attempted to deflate those concerns today by drawing on his years as mayor of a small city. He also said he will use his experience in Brussels to make Europe “more efficient, closer to the citizens, more social within society and between countries”.

“I know what’s going on in Europe. I know the strengths and also weaknesses of the European Union,” he told the audience.

“European politics is German domestic politics and German domestic politics has a powerful effect in Europe. Whoever wants to play those against each other is committing a sin against the future of our children and of the coming generations,” Schulz said.

The SPD candidate promised to continue fighting against right-wing populist parties, telling party supporters he confronted their racist, Eurosceptic arguments “daily” during his time as European Parliament president.

Leaders from the right-wing party ‘Alternative for Germany’ met last weekend in Koblenz with top politicians from Marine Le Pen’s National Front, Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party and the Italian Northern League.

“We already had a party with this kind of aggressive nationalism in our country,” Schulz said, calling Alternative for Germany a “shame” for the country.