Germany's SPD leader to join 'grand coalition' talks
The leader of Germany's centre-left Social Democrats has said his party will join talks on forming a new government.
Martin Schulz raised the prospect of an end to the political impasse that has existed since inconclusive national elections in September after reversing his stance on the issue.
Mr Schulz told reporters in Berlin that the Social Democrats were now willing to meet with other parties, but insisted that the talks "won't automatically take a particular direction".
"Should the talks mean that we participate in the formation of a government, in whichever form or constellation, then our party members will vote on it first," he said.
The move marks a U-turn for Mr Schulz, who had previously ruled out any participation in a future government after he lost to Angela Merkel's conservative Union bloc in the September 24 vote.
Mr Schulz said the party was moved to reconsider following a meeting with President Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Thursday.
Mr Steinmeier called all mainstream parties for talks after Mrs Merkel failed to form a coalition with the left-leaning Greens and pro-business Free Democrats last weekend.
With the Social Democrats initially refusing to consider continuing the "grand coalition" they have had with Mrs Merkel over the past four years, that left a new election as a viable option.
Mr Schulz said the talks would likely take several weeks and a ballot of party members, should it be required, could delay the formation of a new government even further.
Mr Steinmeier's office said that he had asked Mrs Merkel, the head of her party's Bavaria-only Christian Social Union, Horst Seehofer, and Mr Schulz in for joint talks next week.
Details have not been finalised but Mrs Merkel has always suggested she is open to talking with the Social Democrats, and Mr Schulz said his party would "naturally" accept Mr Steinmeier's invitation.