BERLIN (AP) — The leader of Germany's center-left Social Democrats sought his party's support Thursday to open talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives on extending their governing coalition, or at least backing a minority government.
Martin Schulz, Merkel's defeated challenger in Germany's Sept. 24 election, had insisted previously that his party would go into opposition after a disastrous result in that vote.
He also refused to join 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 has reversed course.
At a previously scheduled party congress, Schulz sought members' approval for a resolution approving talks on "whether and in what form" the Social Democrats can support a new government under Merkel.
"We don't have to govern at any price, but we also shouldn't want not to govern at any price," Schulz said. "What is important is what we can implement."
Some members — including the party's youth wing — want to specifically rule out another coalition with Merkel's Union bloc, leaving only a minority government or a new election as options. Merkel has said she is "very skeptical" about leading a minority government, which hasn't yet been tried in post-World War II Germany.
"There are various, equally valuable ways in which we can contribute to forming a government in this country," Schulz said. The leadership's motion "takes no option off the table," he added, making clear it wouldn't automatically lead to a coalition.
In his speech, Schulz listed center-left priorities such as equal treatment for men and women in the labor market and a relatively liberal approach to immigration, rejecting the idea of a cap on the number of refugees allowed into the country.
The former European Parliament president called for a eurozone budget to boost investment and growth in Europe, and a European finance minister who would curb "tax dumping."
He also advocated aiming for a federal "United States of Europe" by 2025, and argued that countries that don't want to sign up to a treaty establishing a federal setup should leave the European Union.
The Social Democrats have been part of Germany's government for 15 of the past 19 years — twice joining a "grand coalition" under Merkel, from 2005 to 2009 and again from 2013 until now.
But the party suffered historically poor election results after both Merkel coalitions, with support slumping to a post-war low of 20.5 percent in September.
"The renewal of the Social Democratic Party will happen outside a 'grand coalition,' or it won't happen," said the leader of its youth wing, Kevin Kuehnert.Associated Press