Martin Schulz, the man nominated to lead Germany’s center-left Social Democrats into the country’s upcoming election said Sunday that he would ask all parties to agree on a fairness pact, to prevent vitriol of the kind seen during last year’s U.S. election campaign.
The small-town mayor from western Germany who rose to become president of the European Parliament, said he wouldn’t shy away from debates with his political opponents, but that fake news about candidates and the use of so-called bots to spread messages on social media need to be stopped.
“What we saw last year during the election campaign in the United States, the lack of decency in debates, that shocked me deeply,” he told an audience in Berlin. “It opened up rifts and destroyed much in a country which once stood for freedom and tolerance. That mustn’t happen to us in Germany.”
Members of the Social Democratic Party’s national executive agreed unanimously Sunday to make Schulz their candidate for the chancellorship, a post that traditionally goes to the party which receives the greatest share of votes in a general election.
The executive’s decision needs to be confirmed at a party convention on March 19, when the 61-year-old also is expected to become party leader. Incumbent Sigmar Gabriel unexpectedly stepped down to make way for Schulz last week.
Polls put Schulz’s popularity close to that of Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is running for a fourth term in the Sept. 24 vote.
A policeman’s son from Wuerselen, near the Dutch border, Schulz has spoken openly of his descent into alcoholism following an injury that ended a promising soccer career, saying he is grateful to have had a second chance in life.
He pledged to campaign for greater social justice while maintaining a “zero tolerance” policy on crime, quoting a fellow party leader who said: “I’m liberal, but not stupid.”
In his speech, Schulz also criticized President Donald Trump’s comments about women and minorities as “outrageous and dangerous,” while vowing to fight against anti-immigrant populism that’s boosted the nationalist Alternative for Germany party in recent years.