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Opinion

Opinion: Mr. Schulz, stay where you are

Martin Schulz, former President of the European Parliament, was chosen to lead the Social Democratic parliamentary bloc. It's exactly the right job for him, even though he wants more, says DW's Christoph Hasselbach.

Is it a demotion, a tactical move or a service to European democracy? Martin Schulz, former European Parliament President and the Socialists' candidate for the European Commission presidency is once again "merely" the head of a parliamentary group.

But the position is intended to be a temporary one.

As head of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, the second most powerful group in the European Parliament, Schulz hopes to influence appointments of key EU personnel - mainly that of the next Commission President. He is also in the running to be chosen as Germany's next representative on the European Commission. Then again, he may also choose to again be president of the European Parliament.

A fight is brewing

The conflict over the Commission presidency in particular threatens to turn into a huge row in the EU. Clearly, the German MEP is bound to be one of the leading figures in the dispute, even if he himself won't raise a claim to the presidency in the wake of the conservatives' victory.

As soon as it was clear that the European People's Party's candidate Jean-Claude Juncker won the most votes in European Parliamentary elections, Schulz didn't hesitate to support his rival.

While the entire parliament eventually backed the former Prime Minister of Luxembourg, a few heads of state and government, including British Prime Minister David Cameron, remain opposed. Some see Juncker as too firmly entrenched in the "old system" that inevitably calls for "more Europe" as a solution to every problem.

Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel was slow to back Juncker, and now inadvertently finds herself in an extremely difficult mediating mission because she wants to keep Cameron on board.

It is possible, however, that Cameron and others opposed to Juncker will be sidelined and outvoted at the EU summit next week. But it is also possible that the leaders will nominate someone other than Juncker - someone who was not a parliamentary candidate for the post.

A matter of interpretation

Schulz is not interested in partisan politics as much as he is in the balance of power among the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission. Should the heads of the EU member states disregard parliament's wishes, Schulz would see it as a serious disenfranchisement of voters that could result in even lower voter turnout and political extremism in the future.

Some government leaders say no contract binds them to back the top candidate. And, officially, that is true. But if they nominate someone other than Juncker, Schulz will be the first to mobilize opposition in the EU Parliament.

A self-confident lawmaker

It remains to be seen who will win this power struggle in the end, and where that leaves Martin Schulz.

What is clear already is that Schulz has served the EU - and particularly the Parliament - exceptionally well.

In the past, presidents of the European Parliament were rather boring dignitaries bent foremost on maintaining equilibrium. Schulz, however, constantly took on the Council, making sure that Parliament's rights were observed. At EU summits - usually events steered by governments - Schulz demonstratively and confidently mingled with state leaders and jumped at every opportunity to outline the Parliament's opinions to reporters - in French, English or Italian.

At times, however, he didn't quite manage to differentiate between his official position as representative of the entire Parliament and his former job as head of the Socialist parliamentary group.

Talented speaker

In fact, the latter role appears to have suited him best of all. Few MPs rivaled his talented rhetoric in his day - polished, witty, and marked by empathy for the needs of the common citizen. Despite decades of living in the Brussels bubble, Schulz never came across as arrogant.

However, depending on his function, Schulz can achieve varying degrees of success for European interests.

The Commission Presidency is no longer an issue. Naming Schulz as the new German EU Commissioner would be a waste of talent by handing an administrative position to a man with energy to spare. Another term as European Parliament President would be a better fit, but here, too, he would have to restrain his rhetoric.

European interests would be best served if Schulz remained head of the parliamentary group. It may appear less glamorous, but in view of a new parliament full of euroskeptics and extremists, it's more important than ever.

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