Germany's Social Democrats have voted to enter coalition talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives, a key step toward ending political gridlock and forming a new government. Delegates in Bonn voted 362 to 279 on Sunday in favor of opening the coalition talks, the AP reports. Once a coalition agreement is reached with Merkel's Union bloc, the Social Democrats' membership still would have to approve it before a government can be formed. Ahead of the vote, party leader Martin Schulz told delegates he would push for more concessions from the conservatives on labor, health, and migration policies.
The leader of the Social Democrats, Martin Schulz, had urged party members to vote for opening coalition talks with Merkel's conservatives, saying a stable German government was needed as a bulwark against right-wing extremism. The center-left party has governed with Merkel's Union bloc since 2013, but Schulz initially vowed not to renew the so-called "grand coalition" after his Social Democrats took a beating in September's election. Schulz told party members gathered in Bonn that his view of the political situation changed after Merkel failed to form a coalition with two smaller parties. He said, "Europe is waiting for a Germany that knows its responsibility for Europe and can act decisively." If the coalition talks fail, the only options left are for Merkel to form a minority government or for new elections.