Merkel's About to Find Out If SPD Will Talk About Governing

(Bloomberg) -- Germany’s Social Democrats are poised to decide whether to start talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel that could renew their government alliance and clear the way for her fourth term.

SPD head Martin Schulz gathered the party’s leadership on Friday to figure out whether to open exploratory talks with Merkel’s Christian Democratic-led bloc, which is urging the Social Democrats to renew the “grand coalition” of Germany’s two biggest parties for another four years. Schulz plans to hold a news conference afterward at 2:30 p.m. in Berlin.

“I do expect that we will decide in favor of holding talks,” Niels Annen, a member of the party’s national leadership, told reporters. “But the final outcome will have to be kept noncommittal for the time being.”

It’s an in-or-out moment for the party, which is torn between taking responsibility for helping govern Europe’s biggest economy and many members’ reluctance to serve as Merkel’s junior partner for the third time in 12 years.

“The SPD has to decide whether it wants stability for Germany, which is something that requires a stable government,” Markus Soeder, a member of the Bavarian ruling party that’s allied with Merkel, told ARD television.

Merkel’s bloc has rejected several creative proposals by the Social Democrats to avoid a classic coalition government, which has been the norm in Germany since World War II. That includes a loose “cooperation coalition,” built around an agreement to support the chancellor on a few key policy areas only.

Surging Support

Almost three months after a national election that eroded the political center, Europe’s dominant country is being run by Merkel in a caretaker capacity. Her attempt to enlist the Free Democrats and the Green party fell apart in November, leaving the SPD as an obvious choice.

Underlying the SPD’s reluctance to join Merkel is a decline in voter support as the chancellor won credit for carrying out Social Democratic policies, such as a national minimum wage.

Germans are warming to another grand coalition amid the extended stalemate, with 61 percent in favor, according to an Infratest Dimap poll for ARD. That’s an increase of 16 percentage points compared with early December, the Dec. 11-13 survey of 1,029 eligible voters showed.

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.