Some of their guesses:
“President of a football club. President of Armenia.”
“Is he American?”
“A priest… a banker?”
Our roving producer Hans von der Brelie concluded: “Well, in Paris, almost no one knows Martin… Let’s ask around in Eastern Germany.”
There, we did better:
“Sure: he’s in the European Union, a social-democrat.”
“He’s SPD, a social-democrat. Yeah, that’s Martin Schulz, he works over there in Brussels.”
Our producer said: “This man’s name is Martin Schulz. He is President of the European Parliament and he’s running for the presidency of the European Commission. He’s the candidate of the European Socialists.”
Schulz grew up in a household of modest means, with two brothers, two sisters — their father a policeman. Martin joined the Social Democrat political party at 19. Twelve years later, he was an elected mayor.
In 1994, he entered European Parliament. Ten years later, he was leading the socialist group.
Later, when a public insult from Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi backfired, Schulz made headlines and his profile became better known, for his speaking out against populist right-wingers anywhere.
In 2012, he was elected parliament president by its members. He had a reputation as an honest deal-broker between European political groups.
Schulz got the message young, that Europe meant peace. As a teen exchange student in Paris, he stayed with a family that had fought in the French resistance against the Nazis in World War Two.
Hans von der Brelie asked him: “We are in a street named after a man who shared his coat with a freezing beggar: rue Saint Martin. He’s an icon of sharing. Are you interested in sharing, and with whom?”
Martin Schulz: “Yes! Wealth isn’t shared fairly on the European continent. In Athens, people are picking through rubbish to survive, while Greek billionaires are buying the most expensive property in London and Berlin. Wealth has to be shared. That’s why we need a fair system of taxation in Europe. That’s one of our most important goals.”
Schulz has been campaigning in Paris for the European elections. He’s fluent in several languages…
“I’m looking for people who vote for me. I believe Europe needs more equality, more opportunities, especially for young people. We are living in a time where the future prospects of a whole generation of Europeans are in the grip of a crisis of others’ making — by financial speculators who pay no taxes when they reap billions in profits, and yet when they lose billions then the taxpayers pay for their mistakes. That’s what I want to change. Think about it, and if you find a moment on the 25th of May, go and vote! But not for Barroso!”
We’ve been having a close look behind the scenes of the European Socialists’ election campaign. Schulz keeps his message moving through social media, sending video tweets about fairness, justice and global finance and youth unemployment. We ask him how he plans to deliver on his promises. His response…
“First of all I would try to make cheap loans available for small and medium-sized companies. This should be handled by the European Investment Bank and by European Structural Funds. If those companies hire young people, they should get privileged access to cheap credit.”
We visited Würselen next, where Schulz grew up, near the Dutch and Belgian borders. He’s still friends with Franz-Josef, Arno and Kornel. They go way back. They were listening to Deep Purple and Uriah Heep together in the early 1970s, and dreaming of becoming professional footballers. They trained hard. They lived just around the corner from each other.
Young Martin skipped a fair bit of school. He hated maths and science. (Couldn’t stand going to church.) He was only interested in history, French and football.
His friends in the local club, Rhenania, say Martin wasn’t the best player, only the toughest.
Franz-Josef Hansen, Ex-forward, Rhenania 05: “When Martin went out to eliminate a top-league player in the other team, that’s exactly what he did.”
Arno Domgörgen, Ex-goalkeeper, Rhenania 05: “I was never afraid in goal, I just knew Martin would defend me till his last breath.”
Hansen: “He was top of the team for stamina, tenacity, bravery, punch, perseverance, trust and faith in us team mates. When we had to fight against the big top-league teams, Martin’s courage inspired us.”
Kornel Simons, Ex-midfielder, Rhenania 05: “School came second. Football came first. We were on the pitch all the time. When the gates were closed, we climbed the fence.”
Hansen: “We pushed past our own limits quite often. Martin was the locomotive, running ahead.”
Simons: “We didn’t have a choice. It was the only thing open to us: football. It was and still is the poor people’s sport. You just needed a pair of football boots and a football, and you could go for it.”
Schulz launched the socialist campaign in Paris, to a crowd of 2,000. He never went to university, didn’t even finish high school. He remembers he was happy he got an offer to work in a bookstore. He reflects on today’s five million young Europeans without jobs — that they need help. Schulz tells us what makes him fight for a strong and united Europe…
“I am a child of a family that lived through the horrors of borders. They were part of our personal experience. Parts of my family did service in three different armies. Today’s close transnational cooperation of people and countries is a real gift. It’s a gift for all Europeans, and I’ve always felt it as a very personal gift to me, too.”
Yet this transnational cooperation is a complicated game. Even among allied teams, it’s a demanding job to reach agreements over differing interests.
Astrid Lorenz, Professor of Politics at Leipzig University, said: “The socialists agreed on a common European election programme. Its ten points are non-controversial, but they are also very vague. That’s generally a problem of “European parties”. They are just alliances of national parties which are still defining their own political objectives, with a national outlook.”
Now Schulz is a guest speaker at Leipzig, which has one of Europe’s oldest universities.
He stresses the need to defend values such as the right to strike and minimum wages, to defend not only social standards but environmental, from pressures within Europe and abroad.
Our producer asked: “Playing football as a young man, did you learn something for life and politics?”
Schulz answers: “For sure! In the end, the team wins, not one person. We need to stick together. If a player has a problem, others step in. Everyone’s equal: goalkeeper, outside forward, everyone.”