Martin Schulz, President of European Parliament, Will Return to German Politics


Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, in Brussels on Thursday.

Olivier Hoslet/European Pressphoto Agency

BRUSSELS — Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament since 2012, announced on Thursday his return to German politics, fueling speculation that he might challenge Chancellor Angela Merkel, who plans to seek a fourth term in elections next year.

The announcement by Mr. Schulz, 60, had been expected. Speculation about his return to German politics gained new momentum after Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany’s foreign minister, was tapped to become the country’s next president.

Mr. Schulz said he would seek a seat in the Parliament from North Rhine-Westphalia, the most populous state in Germany. From there, he might lead the Social Democratic Party’s challenge to Ms. Merkel’s party, the center-right Christian Democratic Union, in elections scheduled for September. The two parties have governed Germany in a “grand coalition” since 2013.

Another possible scenario is that Mr. Schulz would replace Mr. Steinmeier as foreign minister, a possibility if the Social Democrats were to select their chairman, Sigmar Gabriel, currently the vice chancellor, as the party’s candidate for chancellor, the head of government.

A former bookshop owner and mayor of Würselen, a town in North Rhine-Westphalia, Mr. Schulz was elected to the European Parliament in 1994. He rose to prominence in 2003 when Italy’s prime minister at the time, Silvio Berlusconi, called him a “capo,” or a Nazi concentration camp commander, during a debate at the European Parliament.

Mr. Berlusconi made the insult after Mr. Schulz questioned him about conflicts of interest in his business affairs. Mr. Schulz was warmly applauded by other lawmakers after describing Mr. Berlusconi, a tycoon, as unfit to represent Europe.