German Social Democrats Say 'Yes' to Coalition Talks With Merkel

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"You can't find anyone in the party who's excited about another grand coalition", said Kühnert, leader of an angry cabal of SPD left-wingers and many younger members. Support for the SPD slipped to 18 percent, below the 20.5 percent it achieved in the election.

They have been anxiously awaiting the return to action of economic and political heavyweight Germany, hoping to see a government emerge that will unblock key European Union reforms.

A recount was held after an initial show of hands was too close to call for the SPD official in charge of the count and the result was slightly narrower that most analysts expected. Nahles, who heads the SPD parliamentary group, lambasted those who opposed coalition talks for seven whole minutes.

In the case of a new grand coalition, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) will become the biggest opposition party in the Bundestag.

But an initial surge in support fizzled and the Schulz SPD came to earth on September 24th with a bone-rattling 20.5 per cent, its worst result in nearly 70 years. All SPD party members will vote by mail on a final coalition deal if there is one.

Martin Schulz speaks at his SPD party conference last yea. Fresh from heading the European Parliament, Schulz promised to bring back fairness to German life, and lure back working class voters who had drifted off to the hard left and the hard right.

Ahead of the vote, SPD leader Martin Schulz told delegates he would push for more concessions from the conservatives on labour, health and migration policies.

Six hundred delegates will vote on Sunday on whether to embark on full-blown coalition talks.

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In the election campaign, Schulz wavered between a fundamental critique of neoliberalism à la Jeremy Corbyn and a more pragmatic approach, between a critique of the Hartz IV reforms and an appraisal of the role these reforms played in providing the basis for the economic success of Germany.

He suggested his party's best chance at regaining support from its grassroots was through vigorously pursuing its policies from within government and not behaving as a "junior partner" to Merkel.

Schulz also told reporters that some areas such as healthcare and rental caps could be added during formal coalition talks, and highlighted the fact that negotiators had agreed to review the deal after two years.

Even if the SPD does vote in favour of starting coalition talks, a new government is far from guaranteed.

Opposition to renewing the grand coalition was led by the Social Democrats' youth wing. Previous attempts by the chancellor to join with other German political parties in a governing coalition failed. The sizeable rebel arm of the SPD does not want to see a revival of the same "grand coalition", known as GroKo, that formed the last government.

Elections last September confirmed Mrs Merkel's position as Chancellor for a fourth term.

"In this way, we are doing so that we can be guided by the fundamental idea of the Elysee Treaty to unite our citizens and make our cooperation clear to everyone", said Merkel and Macron in a statement.

Merkel and CDU-CSU leaders have so far ruled out any changes to the agreement that was reached during exploratory talks with the SPD, which ended on January 12. "Important decisions have to be made now - not in three, four, five years".

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