Germany’s center-left Social Democrats are discussing Thursday whether to open talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives on extending their governing coalition, or at least backing a minority government.

The Social Democrats’ leadership insisted the party would go into opposition after a disastrous election result in September. It reinforced its refusal to join a new coalition after Merkel’s talks with two smaller parties collapsed last month.

However, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier made clear that he doesn’t want a new election, and Social Democrat leader Martin Schulz reversed course.

At a previously scheduled party congress Thursday, Schulz is seeking members’ approval for a resolution approving talks on “whether and in what form” the Social Democrats can support a new government.

However, some members — including the party’s youth wing — want to specifically rule out another coalition, leaving only a minority government or a new election as options. Merkel has said she is “very skeptical” about leading a minority government, which hasn’t yet been tried in post-World War II Germany.

Social Democrat parliamentary group chief Andrea Nahles said the collapse of Merkel’s talks with other parties produced an unexpected new situation.

“We can’t play the ostrich and stick our heads in the sand,” she said.

The Social Democrats have been part of Germany’s government for 15 of the past 19 years — first leading a center-left government under Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder from 1998 to 2005, then twice governing in a “grand coalition” under Merkel, from 2005 to 2009 and again from 2013 until now.

The party suffered historically poor election results after both Merkel coalitions, with support slumping to a post-war low of 20.5 percent in September.


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