Here's everything you need to know about Angela Merkel's challenger Martin Schulz

Martin Schulz waves during a convention of the SPD in Berlin (Michael Sohn/AP)

The German centre-left party has just officially named Martin Schulz as their chairman, which means he will run against Angela Merkel in the country’s general election this September.

But who is the 61-year-old, and how did he manage to cause a surge in his party’s popularity just by standing for the chairman role?

This is everything you need to know about him.

What’s his background?

Schulz in 10 Downing Street while he was still President of the European Parliament (Matt Dunham/PA)
Schulz at 10 Downing Street while he was still president of the European Parliament (Matt Dunham/PA)

Schulz is a newcomer to domestic politics, having served as president of the European Parliament since 2012. He left the role in January of this year after serving two full terms.

Before that, he’d been an MEP for the Social Democratic Party (SDP) since 1994 and served on human rights, civil liberties and justice committees.

How popular is he?

Schulz after becoming party chairman at the SDP convention (Markus Schreiber/AP)
Schulz after becoming party chairman at the SDP convention (Markus Schreiber/AP)

Very.

After being unexpectedly nominated as the SPD’s chairman in January, the party enjoyed a surge in the polls. The SDP’s general secretary Katarina Barley says they’ve had 13,000 new members this year. People have started calling it the “Schulz effect”.

With no challengers, he was elected at the party’s Berlin convention with 100% of the delegates’ votes, which is unheard of for the party.

A poll issued the day he won by a German newspaper put the SDP just one percentage point behind Angela Merkel’s party, so his leadership is certainly enjoying a strong start.

Could he beat Merkel?

Angela Merkel is aiming for a fourth term (Leon Neal/PA)
Angela Merkel is aiming for a fourth term (Leon Neal/PA)

The SDP currently share power with Merkel’s dominant centre-right party in a coalition, which is common for German parliaments.

But the SDP is creeping up behind her Christian Democratic Union party in the polls, and analysts think Schulz may benefit from being a newcomer, as opposed to Merkel who’s been chancellor since 2005.

His first real test comes next Sunday with the state elections in Saarland, where there’s currently a coalition reflecting the one at national level.

If the Schulz effect takes hold in the small western state it could indicate that Germans are ready for something new after 12 years of Merkel at the helm.

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