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German Social Democrats debate coalition talks with Merkel

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German Social Democrats debate coalition talks with Merkel

The Associated Press
The party logo is photographed while turning the camera during a party meeting of the Social Democrats discussing the possible coalition talks with Chancellor Angela Merkels conservative block in Bonn, Germany, Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

Social Democratic leader Martin Schulz urged party members Sunday to vote for opening coalition talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives, saying a stable German government was needed to strengthen Europe and serve as a bulwark against right wing extremism.

The center-left party has governed with Merkel's Union bloc since 2013, but Schulz had vowed not to renew the so-called "grand coalition" after his Social Democrats took a beating in September's election.

He told party members gathered in Bonn that the decision was right at the time — but said the political situation has changed after Merkel failed to form a coalition with two smaller parties.

"Europe is waiting for a Germany that knows its responsibility for Europe and can act decisively," he said.

He said the stakes were high, with French President Emmanuel Macron needing support in his ambitious plans to reform the European Union.

"If he fails in his policies, then it can't be ruled out the extreme right will form the next government in Paris," Schulz said.

If the Social Democrats reject entering the talks, the only options left are for Merkel to form a minority government or for new elections.

Social Democrat deputy leader Malu Dreyer, the Rhineland-Palatinate governor, told delegates that since Merkel's Union bloc is against forming a minority government, voting against entering talks would mean new elections.

"We can't force the Union into a minority government, that's an illusion," she said.

But the head of the Social Democrats' youth wing, Kevin Kuehnert, urged delegates to vote against the grand coalition anyway, saying agreeing to it just because it's the least-bad option would just contribute further to the party's "crisis of trust" with supporters.

"This loop needs to be broken," said Kuehnert, who has led a strong opposition to opening new coalition talks.

Many Social Democrats have voiced fears that should they become part of a new coalition, that would leave the anti-migrant nationalist Alternative for Germany party as the largest opposition party.

But Schulz said the risks of a new election were even greater.

"Who can say that new elections won't further strengthen the right fringe?" he asked.

He noted that other Social Democrats in Europe hadn't profited from being in opposition, and suggested his party's best chance at regaining support from its grassroots was through vigorously pursuing its policies from within government and not behaving as a "junior partner" to Merkel.

"Any government the SPD takes part in, regardless of what coalition, must be an SPD government," he said. "That has to be our stance."

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