Ex-EU Parliament Chief Schulz To Challenge Merkel In German Elections

In particular, Gabriel singled out Schultz's "decade-long opposition to right-wing populism and his commitment to social justice, democracy, and social cohesion in Europe", contrasting him to current German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who the outgoing SPD chief accused of playing into the hands of Eurosceptic populist parties with her deeply unpopular austerity policy.

"If I were to run, I would fail, and the SPD with me", Gabriel said.

Sigmar Gabriel allegedly told German daily "Die Zeit" that he will put forward former European Parliament President Martin Schulz to take his place as SPD party chairman and chancellor candidate.

A December poll found that Schulz and Merkel both had approval ratings of 57 per cent, dwarfing those of Gabriel.

But a poll conducted this month by the Emnid institute for the Bild newspaper showed that in a direct vote Schulz would win 38 percent versus 39 percent for Merkel, compared to a result of 27 percent for Gabriel and 46 percent for Merkel.

Mr Schulz recently made a decision to return to domestic politics after five years in Brussels.

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SPD parliamentary leader Thomas Oppermann confirmed Gabriel's decision in a news conference in Berlin but declined to comment further.

Party sources told German news agency DPA that Brigitte Zypries, a former justice minister, would take over the economy brief.

She has also been buoyed by steady economic growth, low unemployment and a dearth of viable challengers within her own party. "So Martin Schulz is the most suitable man", one person at the party meeting quoted Gabriel as saying.

An insurgent anti-immigration party, the AfD, is now polling at around 15 percent.

The SPD wants to form a coalition with smaller parties on the left.

  • Sonia Alvarado