German coalition under strain as SPD leader falls from grace

Germany moves toward a new coalition government after major concessions by Angela Merkel

Martin Schulz, leader of the Social Democrats (SPD), abandoned a plan on Friday to serve as German foreign minister, seeking to end a party row over his role and boost support among members for a new "grand coalition" with German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives.

But the relief turned to shock as Martin Schulz, the SPD leader, announced he would step down to become foreign minister.

Senior figures of Social Democratic Party (SPD), including the current Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, have publicly criticized Schulz and accused him of not keeping his promises.

"I hereby declare my decision not to join the federal government and at the same time I sincerely hope that this will end the personnel debates within the SPD", said Schulz, a former president of the European Parliament. Wolfgang Steiger, head of the party's economic council, said the agreement was "not the spirit of the future, but the garbage of redistribution".

"We all do politics for the people in this country", he said in a statement, "so it's appropriate that my personal ambitions should take a back seat to the interests of the party".

Merkel faced an uphill struggle to maintain power for another four years following a disastrous election campaign.

Soon after elections last September, Schulz ruled out entering a Merkel-led coalition government, and stressed that SPD would assume the role of main opposition.

It was Schulz's second major U-turn since the September elections that ground the storied centre-left party down to just 20.5% of the vote. Schulz had suggested his successor should be parliamentary group chief Andrea Nahles, according to German media.

The result of the SPD vote is expected to be announced on 4 March, with CDU delegates also getting a chance to vote on the coalition deal at a party congress on 24 February.

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