Can Martin Schulz Conquer German Politics?

European Parliament head Martin Schulz has been fighting for decades for a more influential Brussels. It will be a tough sell as he returns to the rough world of national politics.

Shulz has his say
Shulz has his say
Daniel Friedrich Sturm and Andre Tauber

BERLIN — Martin Schulz can speak himself into rage when talking about the responsibilities of European Union member states. The president of the European Parliament has repeatedly criticized members for their lack of solidarity, their habit of systematically blaming Europe for everything that's going wrong. "It's not the European Union that has failed, but the member states themselves," Schulz, a member of Germany's Social Democratic Party (SDP) has declared on more than one occasion.

Now the German politician wants to switch stages and take his show straight to the national level. Last week, Schulz announced that for next year's parliamentary elections, he will run for the first time as the number one candidate on the SPD's Westphalian list, setting the stage for him to enter the German Bundestag. Doing so will require him to perform a tricky balancing act.

In a decidedly anti-European moment, the 60-year-old politician is pro-Europe like no other. Can a man like this even do national politics at all?

Visibility tricks

Schulz has contributed to Europe becoming more visible than ever. He was a decisive factor in giving a democratic mandate to the European Commission by making, for the first time, two top candidates line up and run for the Commission presidency. Schulz lost the vote, with Europeans choosing Jean-Claude Juncker, the candidate from the conservative European People's Party who also belongs to the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU) and Christian Social Union in Bavaria (CSU). Nevertheless, Schulz was far from feeling like a loser. In the end, Europe now had an executive branch bold enough to make a political difference.

When it comes to the long list of conflicts between Brussels and Berlin, Schulz, as a national politician, will have to put his cards on the table. Berlin is fighting rigorously for strict austerity, against more solidarity when guaranteeing saving deposits, as well as giving Brussels more influence over energy politicies.

Social Democrats in Europe hope Schulz can be their point person in Berlin, the continent's most influential capital. He agrees when it comes to the Euro-stability-rules. But he also understands the southern states that are denouncing the austerity measures that they have been burdened with by members of the monetary union. During the last election campaign, Schulz openly championed Euro bonds that the German government had fully rejected.

But Schulz is also a pragmatist. As head of the European Parliament he has always preferred battles he could be sure to win. He cultivates a European vision, but he doesn't suffer from the reflex of putting forth Europe as the solution to every problem. He distinguishes himself, in that way, from many other committed Europeans.

That's another reason why people think he's capable of pretty much anything, even some day becoming Chancellor. Until recently, Schulz had positively ruled out a move towards Berlin. "I don't want to be federal minister. I don't want to be fraction leader," he said. "I represent no threat whatsoever."

That has all changed now. Some speak of him already as a potential candidate for the German Foreign Ministry who will be fighting, from Berlin, for a stronger Europe. "Martin Schulz has more international experience than many other politicians who have occupied the office of the German Foreign Ministry. It would be a good fit," says Elmar Brok (CDU), a member of the European Parliament.

Schulz is a political force, spurred by a kind of camera-friendly self-confidence. Says Herbert Reul, head of the CDU/CSU-group in the EU legislature: "Martin Schulz has given the European parliament a face." His next trick is to see where that leads him in Berlin.

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The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation


Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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