Europe

Germany: Social Democrats back Schulz to challenge Merkel

  • Former President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz of the Social Democratic Party, SPD, center, waves as he arrives for a news conference at the party's headquarters in Berlin, Germany, Sunday, Jan. 29, 2017. Members of the SPD's national executive agreed 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. (Kay Nietfeld/dpa via AP)

    Former President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz of the Social Democratic Party, SPD, center, waves as he arrives for a news conference at the party's headquarters in Berlin, Germany, Sunday, Jan. 29, 2017. Members of the SPD's national executive agreed 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. (Kay Nietfeld/dpa via AP)  (The Associated Press)

  • Former President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz of the Social Democratic Party, SPD, waves as he arrives for a news conference at the party's headquarters in Berlin, Germany, Sunday, Jan. 29, 2017. Members of the SPD's national executive agreed 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. (Kay Nietfeld/dpa via AP)

    Former President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz of the Social Democratic Party, SPD, waves as he arrives for a news conference at the party's headquarters in Berlin, Germany, Sunday, Jan. 29, 2017. Members of the SPD's national executive agreed 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. (Kay Nietfeld/dpa via AP)  (The Associated Press)

  • A supporter of the German Social Democratic Party, SPD, holds a picture of former President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz while waiting for a news conference at the party's headquarters in Berlin, Germany, Sunday, Jan. 29, 2017. Members of the SPD's national executive agreed 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. (Kay Nietfeld/dpa via AP)

    A supporter of the German Social Democratic Party, SPD, holds a picture of former President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz while waiting for a news conference at the party's headquarters in Berlin, Germany, Sunday, Jan. 29, 2017. Members of the SPD's national executive agreed 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. (Kay Nietfeld/dpa via AP)  (The Associated Press)

Germany's main center-left party is backing former European Parliament president Martin Schulz to lead their campaign to unseat Chancellor Angela Merkel in the country's upcoming election.

Members of the Social Democratic Party's national executive agreed 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 61-year-old Schulz also is expected to become party leader in March, after incumbent Sigmar Gabriel unexpectedly stepped down to make way for Schulz last week.

Polls put the former bookseller's popularity close to that of Merkel, who is running for a fourth term in the Sept. 24 vote.

Schulz has spoken out against anti-immigrant populism that's boosted the nationalist Alternative for Germany party in recent years.