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The top leadership of Germany’s Social Democrats were deep in talks on Thursday evening to consider whether the party should drop its opposition to another conservative-led government under Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Martin Schulz, the leader of the SPD, held a closed-door meeting with President Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Thursday, the latest effort to break a political stalemate. The party leader later met with his executive to agree a common approach, sparking speculation the SPD might be preparing the ground for a U-turn.
Mr Steinmeier, himself a former SPD foreign minister, has made clear he wants to avoid new elections, and has urged party leaders on all sides to restart negotiations over a coalition government. There was no statement following the meeting at the president’s Bellevue Palace in Berlin, but Mr Steinmeier is thought to have appealed to the SPD chief to rethink his opposition to a political deal with Ms Merkel.
There were also more signs of a shift inside the party. Echoing statements from their colleagues in recent days, several more SPD lawmakers and officials called either for a repeat of the “grand coalition” with Ms Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union bloc or a deal to back a minority government led by the veteran chancellor.
“We will, if nothing else is possible, also have to think about a grand coalition,” said Karl Lauterbach, a SPD member of parliament
Stefan Zierke, another SPD lawmaker and the spokesman for the party’s deputies from eastern Germany, said on Thursday: “If you want to implement projects, if you really want to move forward social democracy in Germany, then you have to be in government.”
On Wednesday, Mr Schultz said the SPD was “fully aware of its responsibility in the current difficult situation. I’m sure we will find a good solution for our country in the coming days and weeks.”
Many SPD leaders are deeply reluctant to revive the cross-party alliance with Ms Merkel, pointing to the Social Democrats’ historic defeat at the last general election in September. The debacle at the ballot box, which saw the SPD win just 20.5 per cent of the vote, has been widely blamed on the party’s decision to join the CDU-CSU as junior partners four years ago.
Sensing the change in the political climate, senior members of Ms Merkel’s party redoubled their efforts to bring the SPD back into the fold. Volker Kauder, the head of the CDU-CSU group in parliament, told Germany’s Südwest Presse in an interview he would be happy “if the current partners in government found each other once again”. Mr Kauder pointed to the “special responsibility” of the country’s two biggest establishment parties.
German politics has been plunged into an unusual spell of political uncertainty since the September election, which left both the CDU-CSU and the SPD severely weakened. Ms Merkel’s bloc is still the biggest group in parliament, but needs the support either of the SPD or of two smaller parties to form a new government. Negotiations to form a coalition with the pro-business Free Democrats and the leftwing Greens collapsed in acrimony on Sunday — raising fears that the deadlock might only be broken by way of a new election.
It would be the first time in the history of the federal republic that party leaders have shown themselves unable to form a government after a general election.