Germany's Social Democrats agree to talks with Merkel

Germany's Social Democrats agree to talks with Merkel

BERLIN - Agence France-Presse
Germanys Social Democrats agree to talks with Merkel

Former SPD chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrueck attends a meeting at the headquarters of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) on Sept. 27. AFP photo

Germany's Social Democrats said Sept. 27 they will begin talks with Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, who are trying to put together a "grand coalition" with their election rivals.

Despite a convincing win at the polls, Merkel needs to form an alliance with either the Social Democratic Party (SPD) or the Greens to ensure a majority in parliament.

"The SDP is ready for discussions," the party's leader Sigmar Gabriel said following a meeting of the party's leadership.

The announcement came on the same evening as the party's defeated candidate in last Sunday's election, Peer Steinbrueck, said he would no longer hold a leadership role in the SDP, according to a party source.

Some 200 SPD members met behind closed doors at the mini-congress to discuss the party's next move after it came second in the polls with just under 26 percent.

The prospect of a left-right "grand coalition" between the CDU and SPD has the backing of the German public, a poll for ZDF public television showed Sept. 27, with 58 percent saying they would find it "good". However, 32 percent approved of the CDU teaming up with another potential ally, the Greens.

Despite agreeing to talks, many in the SPD are still haunted by memories of the party's last tie-up with Merkel during her first term from 2005-2009.

Then, supporters left the party in their droves, punishing it with its worst ever ballot box result, leaving many SPD members wary of signing up to any new coalition.

Prior to the meeting, SPD deputy Johannes Kahrs said the party should not accept anything less than an equal partnership.

"The CDU must simply realise that anything less than 50-50 ... won't work and also won't be accepted by the [party] members," he told news channel NTV.

He said key SPD demands included a national minimum wage, equality for gays and lesbians, a rent cap and tighter regulation of short-term and temporary work contracts.

Although 64 percent of SPD voters backed a grand coalition in the ZDF poll, a different Forsa survey showed nearly two thirds of SPD members did not.

Steinbrueck stands down

Meanwhile, Peer Steinbrueck, who led the Social Democrats' election campaign against Chancellor Angela Merkel, announced at the meeting he would stand down from all his positions of responsibility in the party, a source told the German DPA news agency.

"My political life will come to an orderly end," he told fellow members of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in Berlin, according to the source.

Steinbrueck, the former premier of populous North Rhine-Westphalia state, was chosen as the candidate to challenge the popular Merkel after other top players excused themselves from what many saw as a political suicide mission.

The trained economist had earned respect as a finance minister under Merkel in a 2005-2009 coalition.

But a string of blunders and gaffes plagued his campaign, including a magazine cover which saw him pointing a middle finger at the camera.

He was also accused of being out of touch with voters after he sneered at modestly priced Pinot Grigio wine and pointed out that chancellors earn little more than regional bank managers.