BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany's Social Democrats (SPD) voted on Thursday to hold talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives on the formation of a government after its leader passionately advocated a free hand to work on a "United States of Europe". "
Voting opens the way for conversations that could solve the impasse in which Europe's economic power sank after Merkel and the SPD squandered their support in the September elections, greatly complicating parliamentary arithmetic.
Martin Schulz urged reluctant members of the SPD center-left to open up to Merkel's proposals to renew the coalition she has governed for the past four years, saying that the party had the responsibility to revive social democracy in Germany.
A new "grand coalition" with the reluctant SPD it is Merkel's best hope of extending her 12 years in power after talks with two smaller parties failed, which gives the smaller SPD ayor influence in any negotiation.
"The issue is not a grand coalition or any grand coalition," he said in a speech at his party's biennial congress, "neither minority government nor new elections." No, it's about how we exercise our responsibility, even the next generation. "
Schulz said the party would only recover if it could offer a clear vision of a Germany and a Europe that worked for its citizens, calling for greater integration and a "United States of Europe" by 2025.
"Europe does not always work for its people, too often for big companies," he said, outlining a populist vision that goes beyond Merkel's own opening to the limited structural reforms and bureaucratic rationalization.
The talks between the two parties are expected to begin in earnest in the new year, and a special congress will have to be convened in which party members will vote on whether to support a final agreement, which could not reach a formal coalition, and could include tolerating a minority government.
Stephan Weil, the influential prime minister of the state of Lower Saxony, said that The SPD would want to see its policies reflected in exchange for supporting any government.
"I think most delegates see themselves as a European party and expect Germany to be a driving force in Europe again," he said of Schulz's proposals regarding the European Union.
Schulz's proposals were met with more caution by Merkel.
"The ability to act (of the EU) I should be in the forefront now, "he told a news conference in Berlin. "So I will focus on more defense cooperation by 2025 and on other issues," including employment and innovation.
Outside the congress hall, youth SPD activists, many of whom want the party to chart a distinctive course after spending eight of the past 12 years in centrist coalitions, handed out red cards that read "No Grand Coalition." .
"Merkel leads this country without an address," said one speaker who addressed the conference. "He does not have a plan for Europe, he leads the country week after week, we need a strong social democracy in this country."
Schulz, who initially said his party should enter the opposition after being punished for participating in the previous grand coalition under Merkel, apologized for the disastrous election results of his party.
UNITED STATES OF EUROPE
Schulz attacked European moves to support the big banks while doing little to counter high youth unemployment.
"When states can not balance their budgets, they face draconian sanctions from Brussels, if we can mobilize billions for bank bailouts but we have to fight for miserable sums to support jobs for young people, then this is definitely not my Europe."
He played a tone that was more critical of big companies than French President Emmanuel Macron, which is pushing for a deeper integration of the euro zone and business-friendly reforms under a finance minister of the euro zone.
He pointed to American technology firms Apple, Facebook and Google, saying that a strong Europe was needed to make them adhere to the rules and protect the rights of workers in a changing economy.
"We do not want an application-driven service society, but we want digitalization to generate more individual freedom," he said amid applause, calling for measures to protect independent workers in the digital economy from becoming "self-exploiters."
On the issue of immigration, one of the main reasons for the collapse of Merkel's first attempt to form a coalition, the SPD opposes a conservative plan to extend the prohibition of the right to family reunions for some accepted asylum seekers .
"There can be no upper limit to the right to protection against war and persecution," Schulz told delegates, rejecting conservative demands for a roof of 200,000 immigrants a year.
Additional reporting by Emma Thomasson; Edition of Kevin Liffey and Toby Chopra