German Social Democratic Party backs talks with Merkel bloc

SPD leader Martin Schulz hails close 56% yes vote for talks: ‘We are all relieved, of course’

Social Democrat leader Martin Schulz made an impassioned appeal to his party on Sunday to give the go-ahead for formal coalition talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives, a move that would bring Germany a step closer to a stable government.

Mr Schulz is facing a backlash from the Social Democrats’ (SPD) left and youth wings, which argue the party should reinvent itself in opposition after scoring its worst election result in September since Germany became a federal republic in 1949.

Speaking in Bonn, where late SPD chancellors Willy Brandt and Helmut Schmidt earned reputations as international statesmen while ruling former West Germany, Mr Schulz implored delegates to allow the SPD to serve as Merkel's junior coalition partner again - a sign of how far the party's fortunes have fallen.

“The SPD must and will be visible, audible and recognisable!” Mr Schulz, sounding hoarse after a week of lobbying delegates, said to loud applause at the packed World Conference Center in the former capital city.


“We ask for your consent to start coalition negotiations.”

Around 600 delegates met at the special party congress in Bonn to debate and vote on whether their leaders should push ahead with formal coalition talks on renewing an alliance with Ms Merkel’s conservatives that took office in 2013.

The two blocs, which both bled support to the far right in the September 24th election, struck a preliminary deal earlier this month after exploratory talks, but critics, including the party's youth wing leader Kevin Kuehnert, say the blueprint does not bear enough of the SPD's hallmarks.

A copy of the motion on which delegates will vote included language on SPD leaders reaching “concrete, effective improvements” to the blueprint but did not make a final vote on the coalition deal conditional on achieving these.

The envisaged improvements would see concessions on labour, health and migration policies, the motion showed.

“We will fight for further improvements in the coalition negotiations if we can continue the talks,” Mr Schulz said.

If a coalition deal is reached, all SPD members still get to vote on the agreement - another hurdle to achieving a new government in Europe’s economic powerhouse, which is humming despite the political uncertainty.

Sunday’s vote will be watched abroad as Germany has Europe’s largest economy and Ms Merkel has long played a leading role in the continent’s economic and security affairs.

"Without the SPD, there will be no bold impulses for the future of Europe, " said Mr Schulz (62) a former president of the European Parliament. "It is up to us."

A negative vote by the SPD would prolong Germany's political deadlock - already four months old - just as its European partners are looking to Berlin for leadership on European Union reform in light of Britain's decision to leave the bloc. - Reuters

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin