Germany’s main center-left party on Thursday offered Chancellor Angela Merkel a way out of the country’s months-long political stalemate while signaling that its price may be a radically different vision of Europe. The Social Democrats (SPD) had repeatedly insisted they would not join Merkel’s conservatives in another grand coalition following an inconclusive September election. But on Thursday, delegates to a party conference in Berlin voted to allow talks to go ahead despite deep internal misgivings. The reversal came weeks after Merkel’s first attempt at forging a coalition collapsed, and a rerun of the alliance between Germany’s two largest parties emerged as the only viable path to avoid another election. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a former SPD foreign minister, has been busy trying to bring the parties around on the idea of a renewed partnership ever since.With Thursday’s vote, SPD delegates cleared the way for party leader Martin Schulz to begin negotiations with Merkel as soon as next week. Her party’s general secretary, Klaus Schüler, welcomed the decision as a step toward “a reliable and stable government.” But the talks are not expected to yield agreement any time soon, with analysts suggesting that Germany may not have a new government until March. And the negotiations could still fail, given the array of issues on which the SPD and Merkel’s conservatives disagree, including asylum policy, climate goals and pension reform.
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