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The Latest: German Social Democrats back talks on government
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The Latest: German Social Democrats back talks on government

The Latest: German Social Democrats back talks on government
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Markus Schreiber
Social Democratic Party chairman Martin Schulz delivers his speech at the party's convention in Berlin, Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017. Germany's center-left Social Democrats are discussing whether to open talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives on extending their governing coalition, or at least backing a minority government. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

The Latest: German Social Democrats back talks on government

The Latest on efforts to form a new government in Germany (all times local):

7:00 p.m.

Members of Germany's center-left Social Democrats have agreed to open talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives on whether to renew their governing coalition or at least support a minority government.

A party congress voted Thursday to support a motion put forward by party leaders that called for talks on "whether and in what form" the Social Democrats can support a new government.

The Social Democrats initially insisted they would go into opposition after a disastrous election result in September, but leaders changed course after Merkel's talks with two smaller parties collapsed last month.

Party chairman Martin Schulz told delegates Thursday: "We don't have to govern at any price, but we also shouldn't want not to govern at any price."

Schulz hopes to open talks next week.

___

9:50 a.m.

Germany's center-left Social Democrats are discussing whether to open talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives on extending their governing coalition, or at least backing a minority government.

The Social Democrats' leadership insisted the party would go into opposition after a disastrous election result in September. It reinforced its refusal to join a new coalition after Merkel's talks with two smaller parties collapsed last month.

However, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier made clear that he doesn't want a new election, and Social Democrat leader Martin Schulz reversed course.

At a previously scheduled party congress Thursday, Schulz is seeking members' approval for a resolution approving talks on "whether and in what form" the Social Democrats can support a new government. But some members want to specifically rule out another coalition.

Germany's center-left Social Democrats agreed Thursday to open talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives on whether to renew their governing coalition or at least 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 Social Democrats can support a new government.

Delegates voted down a call from the Social Democrats' youth wing to explicitly rule out a repeat of the "grand coalition" of Germany's biggest parties in which they have been the junior partners since 2013. But the road to a new government is likely to be lengthy.

Schulz insisted after the Social Democrats' disastrous election showing 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 Thursday'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 membership on any coalition deal with Merkel's Union bloc. On Thursday, leaders agreed also to hold a party congress to consider whether to move on from exploratory talks to full coalition negotiations.

If no coalition is agreed, that would leave 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.

Schulz, however, insisted that "

here 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 sign up to a treaty establishing a federal setup should then automatically leave the European Union.

Asked about that idea at a separate event in Berlin, Merkel said she would concentrate on securing greater cooperation on economic, security, defense and other issues by 2025.

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.

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