Members of Germany's SPD applaud during a press conference announcing the results of the SPD party members' referendum on whether to join a new coalition government with German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives, on Sunday at the SPD headquarters in Berlin. Photo: AFP
Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday vowed to work with the Social Democrats for the "good of Germany," after the centre-left party agreed to join her new coalition, but the veteran leader will go into her fourth term with weaker cards than before.
Two in three of the SPD's rank and file voting in a make-or-break referendum backed a new partnership with Merkel's conservatives, heralding an end to the political stalemate that has plagued Europe's biggest economy since September's inconclusive elections.
But the chancellor, in power for 12 years, has had to pay a high price to coax the reluctant Social Democratic Party (SPD) back into another loveless "grand coalition."
Congratulating the SPD for its "clear result," Merkel said using her CDU party's Twitter account that she was looking forward to "further cooperation for the good of our country."
Stung by their worst post-war results, the SPD had initially ruled out another four years under Merkel's shadow.
But after Merkel's attempt to cobble together a government with two smaller parties failed, the SPD relented.
With the party riven over its way forward, its leadership promised its more than 460,000 members the final say on any coalition deal.
"We now have clarity. The SPD will be in the next government," said SPD's caretaker chairman Olaf Scholz, adding his party plans to send three male and three female ministers to the cabinet.
European partners waiting impatiently for post-war Germany to end its longest stretch of coalition haggling heaved a sigh of relief, with French President Emmanuel Macron calling the SPD decision "good news for Europe."
"France and Germany will work together starting in the coming weeks to develop new initiatives for advancing the European project," Macron's office said.
In a nod to the the abbreviation "GroKo" as the grand right-left coalition is known in Germany, European Commission vice president Frans Timmermans wrote on Twitter: "GroGO! For solidarity in Germany and EU!"
Following the SPD's emphatic decision for a new partnership, Merkel is expected to launch her fourth government by mid-March.
But the long-serving leader faces a far rockier road ahead than in the last four years.
Unlike in their previous partnership when Merkel's conservatives and the SPD enjoyed a crushing majority, this time they now have only a slim 56 percent (399 out of total 709) of seats in parliament.
Both sides had been weakened as voters who are angry about the arrival of more than a million asylum seekers in Germany since 2015 turned to the far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD).
Noting that it would be the biggest opposition party now that the SPD has joined the government, the AfD's parliamentary group leader Alice Weidel promised that "the bill will come at the latest in 2021."