Telegraph - Angela Merkel could be facing a fight to hold on to power in German elections later this year, amid signs of a dramatic swing of support towards her rival, Martin Schulz.
Opinion polls suggest the former head of the European parliament and outspoken Brexit critic has transformed the German political scene since he emerged as Mrs Merkel’s main challenger a week ago.
Support for his Social Democratic Party (SPD) has risen five points in a single week according to the latest poll for Bild newspaper, putting it within touching distance of Mrs Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU).
Placards at Mr Schulz’s first press conference as party leader-designate this weekend depicted him in the red, white and blue tones of Barack Obama’s iconic "Hope” poster.
But instead of hope, the slogan "MEGA” was written accross it — shorthand for Make Europe Great Again.
On social media, some of Mr Schulz’s supproters have started referring to their candidate as "The Schulz”, in reference to President Trump’s nickname "The Donald”.
While some of the adulation is satrirical — Spiegel magazine described him as "Saint Martin” on its latest front cover — the veteran Eurocrat has emerged as an unlikely charismatic leader for the German centre-left.
He has sought to position himself as the defender of the European Union against the twin threats of the Trump administration and Brexit.
"There is obviously a desire in Washington to divide the EU,” he told his first press conference.
President Trump’s support for Brexit is an "attack on the EU”, he said.
It is a message that resonates in Germany, where the EU remains highly popular.
A snap poll for German television last week found Mr Schulz and Mrs Merkel neck and neck in a direct race for the chancellorship.
The Bild poll this week put the SPD on 26 per cent, its highest poll figures in two and half years.
Mrs Merkel’s CDU is still ahead on 32.5 per cent, but for the first time the gap doesn’t look insurmountable.
"Martin Schulz has brought the SPD level with the CDU,” Hermann Binkert of the Insa polling institute told Bild. "The Bundestag election is wider open than ever.”
In a detail that may prove crucial, the SPD is not taking away votes from the CDU, whose support remained level. Instead, opposition to Mrs Merkel appears to be coalescing around Mr Schulz.
It is very different from the race many predicted. The threat to Mrs Merkel was expected to come from the far-Right Alternative for German (AfD) inflicted damaging losses on Mrs Merkel in regional elections last year.
But the AfD has struggled to get its national support past 15 per cent, and has been mired in controversy since one of its most prominent figures called for Germany to stop feeling guilty for its Nazi past earlier this month.
It saw its support fall one and a half points to 13 per cent in the Bild poll.
Mr Schulz’s supporters argue he can take the fight to the populist AfD and make the case for Europe in a way Mrs Merkel cannot.
"Schulz has what Angela Merkel lacks: He has the exuberance, the fire, the passion,” Herbiert Prantl wrote in the centre-left Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper. "Schulz is won’t leave the emotion to the extremists.”
Other commentators were less impressed. "For the time being, the SPD is benefitting from Mr Schulz and the charm of the unknown,” Timo Steppat wrote in the centre-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper.
"Who knows if this will be enough to match its result from last time?” The party came a distance second to Mrs Merkel’s CDU in 2013.
With the elections eighth months away, it was a sentiment echoed by Mr Schulz himself in his press conference. An election campaign is "not a sprint, but a long-distance run”, he said. "You have to conserve your energy.”