BERLIN – The leader of the center-left Social Democrats sought the support of his party on Thursday to open talks with the conservatives of Chancellor Angela Merkel on the extension of his ruling coalition, or at least to back a minority government.
Martin Schulz, Merkel's defeated challenger in the German elections on September 24, had previously insisted that his party would enter the opposition after a disastrous result in that vote.
He also refused to join a new coalition after the Merkel talks with two smaller parties collapsed last month. But President Frank-Walter Steinmeier made it clear that he does not want a new election and Schulz changed course.
In a previously scheduled party congress, Schulz requested the approval of the members for a resolution approving talks on "if and in what form" the Social Democrats can support a new government under Merkel.
"We do not have to govern at any price, but we should not want to govern at any price either," Schulz said. "What is important is what we can implement."
Some members, including the youth wing of the party, specifically want to exclude another coalition with Merkel's trade union bloc, leaving only a minority government or a new election as an option. Merkel has said she is "very skeptical" about leading a minority government, which has not yet been tested in post-World War II Germany.
"There are several equally valuable ways in which we can contribute to forming a government in this country," Schulz said. The leadership motion "does not take any options from the table," he added, making it clear that it would not automatically lead to a coalition.
In his speech, Schulz listed center-left priorities as equal treatment for men and women in the labor market and a relatively liberal approach to immigration, rejecting the idea of limiting the number of refugees allowed in the country.
The former president of the European Parliament called for a eurozone budget to boost investment and growth in Europe, and a finance minister who would curb "tax dumping".
He also advocated targeting a federal "United States of Europe" by 2025, and argued that countries that do not want to sign a treaty that establishes a federal configuration should abandon it. The European Union.
The Social Democrats have been part of the government of Germany for 15 of the last 19 years, twice joined a "grand coalition" under Merkel, from 2005 to 2009 and again from 2013 until now.  But the party suffered historically poor electoral results after the two Merkel coalitions, and the support was reduced to a post-war minimum of 20.5 percent in September.
"The renewal of the Social Democratic Party will occur outside of a 'grand coalition' or it will not happen," said youth wing leader Kevin Kuehnert.
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