Germany's Social Democrats mull talks on backing Merkel govt

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He believes that coalition talks with the Socialists could start next week, if the party members decide that direction, but these won't be finalized until the end of February or even the start of March.

Martin Schulz, the head of Germany's Social Democrats, wants to push for ever-closer European integration and turn the EU into a "United States of Europe" by 2025.

A poll published by the German Spiegel newspaper showed that only 28 percent of SPD voters favoured another grand coalition, though 57 percent of them argued leader Martin Schulz should support a minority government led by Merkel.

He demanded Berlin join French President Emmanuel Macron and other proponents of major EU reforms in boosting the bloc and its currency union, including by raising investment and giving the eurozone a common finance minister and budget.

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Despite this, Schulz has the tacit backing of most party leaders - with some misgivings - and has also received considerable support from political leaders in Europe, who have urged him to be fearless and step up for the sake of European stability.

Schulz said only a more united European Union could meet major challenges such as combating climate change, managing mass migration or stopping multinational companies from dodging taxes.

"If we don't change course, if we don't strengthen Europe in very practical and concrete ways, then these forces will win", he warned, condemning the "right-wing radicals and pitiful German nationalists" of the country's far-right AfD party.

At a previously scheduled party congress, Schulz sought members' approval for a resolution approving talks on "whether and in what form" the Social Democrats can support a new government under Merkel.

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Schulz, who delivered his party's poorest result since the second world war in September elections, has become a potential kingmaker, but only after having rowed back from initially excluding a repeat of the conservative-SPD coalition that ruled Germany for the previous four years.

Schulz only relented after Merkel's talks with two smaller parties collapsed just over two weeks ago, sparking heightened political uncertainty.

"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. Later on Thursday, SPD delegates are set to vote on a motion submitted by the party's leadership laying out the prerequisites to enter negotiations with the chancellor.

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