German TV duel gives flavour of EU grand coalition
It seemed like a gathering of old friends. Jean-Claude Juncker from the centre-right European People's Party and Martin Schulz from the Social-Democrats are both pro-European, both from the same generation and both represent parties that are likely to form a grand coalition after the EU elections.
On their first German-speaking TV duel on Thursday evening (8 May), broadcast on German and Austrian public TV, the two "Spitzenkandidaten" had few disagreements.
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Schulz accused Juncker of representing a Europe of "leaders meeting behind closed doors, in dark rooms" who then take decisions that are communicated to their "underlings".
"I am not for this kind of Europe," said the German politician, currently head of the European Parliament.
"I got to know Martin Schulz in a dark room behind closed doors," Juncker retorted, in reference to the European Council meetings where the head of the European Parliament takes part in some meetings.
Juncker – a Luxembourg politician who was the longest-serving Prime Minister in the EU until last year – quipped about his age and his ambition to become head of the EU commission, "because I've already been head of a government".
"I want to set one thing straight – I am 59, not 60," he said.
"But you look like 60," retorted Schulz, who is 58.
Juncker also joked about "bleached chicken" - a German consumer protection concern linked to the EU-US free trade negotiations. When asked if he would allow for bleached chicken to be imported, Juncker replied: "No. The chickens don't want it, either."
A surprise answer came on the issue of the single seat of the European Parliament. Juncker said he is in favour of keeping the status quo, with the monthly commute from Brussels to Strasbourg. "France would never agree to give up the Strasbourg seat. It's like the God question in Catechism, you don't ask it."
Schulz was asked about his former party boss and ex-Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who celebrated his 70th birthday in the company of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Schulz replied that he "doesn't always agree with Schroeder on Russia", but claimed that in this case, the former chancellor used his influence for the release of four German hostages held by pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine.
A survey carried out by Stern shows that 41 percent of Germans would like Schulz to become the next commission president, while only 24 percent would favour Juncker.
The two parties they represent are likely to form a grand coalition after the EU elections in order to be able to pass legislation through the Parliament.
Currently, the EPP can form a majority only with the Liberals, who sometimes form a leftist majority with Social-Democrats and the Greens. But since all big groups are set to lose seats and eurosceptic and far-right parties are to make an entry in the next legislature, a grand coalition is seen as the most likely outcome.