BERLIN • Leaders of Germany's Social Democratic Party (SPD) endorsed former European Parliament president Martin Schulz yesterday as their candidate to run against conservative Angela Merkel in September's national election, sources familiar with the decision said.
The decision will be formalised at a special party conference to be held in Berlin on March 19, the sources told Reuters.
About 35 members of the party's executive committee voted unanimously for Dr Schulz, 61, to become the party's new leader and its chancellor candidate, the sources said.
Speaking at the party's headquarters in Berlin, Dr Schulz told a crowd of over 1,000 people that he would fight for greater equality and overcome "deep divisions" in Germany.
Dr Schulz said that he would fight for fairer tax rules and to ensure that people in rural areas enjoyed the same benefits as those in the big cities.
He also called for greater solidarity in Europe on the migrant issue and described the actions of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban as "an affront" to European unity.
I want to be chancellor. I have worked with Angela Merkel longer than almost anyone outside her party. I have studied her, gotten to know her.
DR MARTIN SCHULZ, on German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in an interview with news weekly Der Spiegel. SPD's endorsement of him as its candidate to run against Dr Merkel is seen as a sign that the party is serious about ending its role as a junior partner in her coalition.
Dr Schulz also sharply criticised the actions and comments by United States President Donald Trump on human rights issues as wholly "unacceptable".
The centre-left party in a surprise move on Tuesday had announced it was nominating Dr Schulz to replace current party leader Sigmar Gabriel, who said he was standing aside to enhance the party's chances in the Sept 24 election. The decision was seen as a sign that the SPD is serious about ending its role as a junior partner in Dr Merkel's current right-left coalition.
A poll of 1,046 voters last week showed Dr Merkel's Christian Democrats would get 34 per cent of the vote if the election were held today, while the SPD would win 23 per cent.
The anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) would become the third-largest party in Parliament with 13 per cent of the vote, according to the poll conducted by Ipsos. The Greens would win 11 per cent, with the Left party seen winning 10 per cent, a slight increase from previous polls.
The SPD wants to form a coalition with smaller parties on the left, but most analysts still think another right-left coalition is the most likely outcome.
Polls suggest that Dr Schulz has a better chance than Mr Gabriel, though still very small, of unseating Dr Merkel, who has led Germany since 2005 and is Europe's most powerful leader.
Dr Merkel's grand coalition with the SPD has governed Germany since 2013.
Dr Merkel's conservatives have been bleeding support to the AfD since her decision in August 2015 to keep Germany's borders open to refugees, a policy that has seen over a million migrants enter Germany over the past two years.
Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, a member of Dr Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), said yesterday that Berlin had made mistakes with its open-door policy and was trying to learn from them.
Dr Merkel was due to meet with Mr Horst Seehofer, head of the CDU's Bavarian sister party, yesterday.
Mr Seehofer told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper that his party would support Dr Merkel as the conservative's candidate despite differences over immigration.