Delegates of the center-left Social Democratic Party voted 362 to 279 in favour of opening coalition talks with Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union after an emotional daylong debate in Bonn.

Delegates of Germany's social democratic SPD party hold up their voting cards during an extraordinary SPD party congress in Bonn, western Germany, on January 21, 2018.
Delegates of Germany's social democratic SPD party hold up their voting cards during an extraordinary SPD party congress in Bonn, western Germany, on January 21, 2018. (AFP)

Germany's Social Democrats voted on Sunday to open talks on forming a new government with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives after party leaders urged members to overcome their apprehensions for the good of the country and stability of Europe.

Delegates of the center-left party voted 362 to 279 in favour of opening coalition negotiations with Merkel's Union bloc after an emotional daylong debate in Bonn.

The vote was a major step toward ending the political gridlock that has prevented a new government from being formed since a September general election. 

"A key moment"

Social Democratic leader Martin Schulz called it "a key moment in the history of our party."

Many delegates expressed concerns that a 28-page paper on the prerequisites for coalition talks hashed out between leaders of the Social Democrats, Merkel's Christian Democratic Union and her Bavarian-only sister Christian Social Union had watered down too many of their positions.

But after the vote, Schulz pledged to negotiate hard for more concessions on labor, health and migration policies.

"We are now starting with the negotiations, and we will come back to all these points," he said, adding that the agreed-upon prerequisites were "no coalition agreement."

Before a new government can be established, another vote by the Social Democrats' membership will have to be held on the final coalition agreement.

TRT World's Ira Spitzer has the latest from Berlin.

Opponents of renewing coalition

Opposition to renewing the grand coalition was led by the Social Democrats' youth wing. 

The youth wing's leader, Kevin Kuehnert, told delegates that extending the alliance because it was the least-bad option would exacerbate the party's "crisis of trust" with its supporters.

"This loop needs to be broken," Kuehnert said.

Many Social Democrats have voiced fears that should their party become part of a new coalition, the anti-migrant nationalist Alternative for Germany party would be left as the country's largest opposition party.

Source: AP