Germany's center-left Social Democrats agreed today to open talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives on whether to renew their governing coalition or at least to support a minority government. Party leader Martin Schulz, Merkel's defeated challenger in Germany's Sept 24 election, secured a party congress's agreement to a motion calling for talks on "whether and in what form" the party could support a new government. Delegates voted down a call from party's youth wing to explicitly rule out a repeat of the "grand coalition" of Germany's biggest parties in which the Social Democrats have been junior partners since 2013. But the road to a new government is likely to be lengthy and bumpy, a several-hour debate revealed little enthusiasm for a coalition. Schulz had insisted after the Social Democrats' disastrous election result in September that the party would go into opposition. He said he still wouldn't contemplate joining a new coalition after Merkel's talks with two smaller parties collapsed last month.
But President Frank-Walter Steinmeier made clear he doesn't want a new election, and Schulz reversed course. Schulz told today's previously scheduled congress that the leadership's plan for talks, which he hopes to start next week, "takes no option off the table" and wouldn't automatically lead to a coalition. "We don't have to govern at any price, but we also shouldn't want not to govern at any price," he said. "What is important is what we can implement." Schulz has promised a ballot of the party's entire membership on any coalition deal with Merkel's Union bloc.
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