Six weeks before Germany’s national election in which Merkel will seek a fourth term, her main rival Martin Schulz is lagging behind in the polls.
In the most recent survey at the end of July by Stern, RTL and Forsa Institute, Schulz sank to his lowest level of support since being nominated as the Social Democrats’ (SPD) chancellor candidate. Just 21 percent of respondents said that hypothetically speaking, they would choose Schulz if they were able to vote directly for him. This was compared to 52 percent who said the same for Merkel.
Schulz spoke recently with the founder of the initiative Faces of Democracy, Sven Lilienström, to discuss democracy, freedom and security, and how Europe should respond to increased pressure from US President Donald Trump to invest more in its own defence.
The SPD leader has not been shy in the past about his feelings about the American President. But come September 24th, will his anti-Trump stance be enough to oust Merkel as chancellor?
READ ALSO: Schulz accuses Trump of being 'un-American'
What follows is the interview with Schulz and Lilienström, translated from the original German:
Mr. Schulz, our first question for those we interview is always the same: What significance does democracy have for you personally?
Our democracy, our fundamental values are the most precious treasures that we as a society have. Throughout its more than 150-year history, the SPD has always proven itself to be a bulwark against the enemies of democracy. For me it is therefore about pride and duty to be the chair of the oldest democratic party in the country.
Democracy here is finding itself more than ever in a position of conflict between security and freedom. How safe is Germany still, and how much freedom must we give up in order to feel safe?
Politicians must always handle this tension-filled relationship with good judgement, and never in a way that is rash or reactionary. Security will not be achieved with new ink in the law books. The call for ever more new laws – for example in knee-jerk reaction to attacks – does not always help things any further.
In such situations, it must be objectively reviewed whether a legal reaction is necessary, and how it would be feasible without unduly limiting freedom. If we want to be an open, free society, then there cannot be absolute security. Nevertheless, we must use all constitutional means to bring about the greatest possible amount of security.
The global security structure also seems to be facing new challenges. What do the changes in transnational power structures mean for our security in Germany?
Europe must now come together more closely. We need a very strong exchange of data, for example in the fight against terrorism. And we need a common European defence policy, instead of following the arms-building logic of Donald Trump. I absolutely have a low opinion of Germany investing €20 billion to €30 billion more in the army. That will not happen with me as chancellor.
The freedom of the press and of opinion plays a crucial role in the democratic canon of values. What can be considered opinion and what can be considered incitement to hatred? Can you give us a current example?
The freedom of the press and of opinion is a great good for our democracies. Therefore we in Europe should not simply watch as Hungary or Poland grind down the constitutional state, or when in Turkey journalists are being imprisoned for simply doing their job.
Even when we as politicians don’t always like what’s in the newspapers, it is our duty to see that journalists are able to do their work without being disturbed.
It is likely that only a fraction of citizens eligible to vote will read the SPD’s election programme. Please tell us in three sentences why you should be the chancellor?
Germany can be more. For one, it is time for more equity in Germany, for example equal pay for men and women in the same jobs. We must invest much more in education, infrastructure, broadband development, and research and development so that we are also successful in the future. And we need a strong, united Europe.
Mr. Schulz, assume that the SPD wins in the German parliament election in the autumn. Out of everything that would come your way in the next four years, what do you have the most respect for?
The chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany has an enormous responsibility for Germany, but with the country being the strongest economy in the heart of Europe, they are responsible for the future of the European Union. But I do not shy away from this.
As chancellor, you can expect to have a huge amount of work every day, and the campaign is anything but a vacation. What helps you to unwind and clear your head?
Since childhood and my adolescence, I have always read a lot. Even in the middle of the campaign, I try to read at least two or three pages every evening.