Speaking at a party conference where SPD politicians are debating whether to open coalition talks with Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, Martin Schulz said Berlin’s stance on Europe would have to shift away from previous unpopular austerity measures.
He was applauded as he told the conference: “God knows that the European Union can’t afford another four years of German policies on Europe in the style of Wolfgang Schaeuble.”
Mr Schaeuble, now president of the Bundestag, introduced a series of unpopular austerity measures during his eight years as finance minister and countries in Eastern Europe were widely critical of his attempts to keep the euro zone in the midst of the global financial crash.
Merkel’s failure to form a coalition after losing votes to the far-right in September’s general election has led to fears that Germany could be forced to return to the polls, but the SPD, despite previously ruling out joining the CDU in a coalition, are now considering aligning with Merkel’s party.
Mr Schulz, who served as the president of the European Parliament from 2012 until January this year, is a keen proponent of more EU integration and believes the bloc must become more united to meet challenges such as combating climate change or managing mass migration, forcing internet giants such as Google and Facebook to respect civil rights or stopping large companies from dodging taxes.
He said: “Europe is our life insurance. It is the only chance we have to keep up with the other great regions of the world.”
The SPD leader also believes a tighter relationship with EU members will quell the rise of right-wing parties across the continent.
France’s Front National and Germany’s AfD party are among the right-wing groups that have threatened to upset elections this year and urged the EU to come together combat the rise.
He warned: “If we don’t change course, if we don’t strengthen Europe in very practical and concrete ways, then these forces will…