Germany’s centre-left party has agreed to coalition talks with Angela Merkel’s conservatives after four months of deadlock.
The Social Democratic Party (SPD) voted on Sunday afternoon to enter into talks with Chancellor Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU).
At a special party congress in the western city of Bonn, 372 out of 642 party delegates voted to approve a preliminary coalition deal with the CDU.
If the vote had gone the other way Mrs Merkel was looking at a snap election or leading an unstable minority government.
“We are relieved, the result shows that we had to fight for this majority,” Schulz said.
The vote marks a step towards ending Germany’s political gridlock after Mrs Merkel lost her majority in September’s federal elections as voters responded to her 2015 open borders policy which allowed hundreds of thousands of refugees into the country.
The gridlock has caused concern across Europe as Germany is the continent’s largest economy, is seen as a steady hand and holds a strong sway within the European Union (EU).
Mrs Merkel’s CDU party had been in a grand coalition with the SPD for eight of the past 12 years.
The SPD were also battered in the election, achieving a record low score of 20.5%.
Its leader, Martin Schulz – president of the European Parliament until last year – blamed his party’s loss in popularity on its coalition with Mrs Merkel.
He immediately said he would not form another coalition with Mrs Merkel who has been chancellor since 2005.
But in recent weeks he has taken a u-turn and this morning was urging party members to vote for opening coalition talks with Mrs Merkel.
He said a stable German government was needed as a bulwark against right-wing extremism.
Mr Schulz said his view of the situation changed after Mrs Merkel failed to form a coalition with two smaller parties, the Free Democrats Party and the Green Party.
He said: “Europe is waiting for a Germany that knows its responsibility for Europe and can act decisively.”
Many grassroots SPD members are angry as they believe some time on the opposition benches would help Germany’s oldest party regain popularity.
If a grand coalition is re-formed a new government could be in place by mid-March – nearly six months after the disastrous election.