German SPD head seeks ‘United States of Europe’, open to coalition talks

BERLIN (Reuters) – The leader of Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD) outlined a vision of a “United States of Europe” within a decade on Thursday, in a bid to win his reluctant party over to working with Chancellor Angela Merkel on forming a new government.

Social Democratic Party (SPD) leader Martin Schulz looks on at an SPD party convention in Berlin, Germany, November 7, 2017. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt

Germany, Europe’s economic powerhouse, has been struggling to build a new government since Merkel’s conservative bloc and the SPD shed support in a September election in which the anti-immigrant AfD party surged into parliament.

On Thursday, Martin Schulz urged members of the center-left SPD to be open to Merkel’s overtures to renew the coalition that has governed for the past four years, saying the party had a responsibility to revive social democracy in Germany.

A new “grand coalition” with the reluctant SPD is Merkel’s best hope of extending her 12 years in power after talks with two smaller parties failed, giving the smaller party leverage in any negotiations.

“The question isn’t grand coalition or no grand coalition,” he said in a speech to his party’s biennial congress, “Nor minority government or fresh elections. No – it’s about how we exercise our responsibility, including to the next generation.”

Schulz said the party would only recover if it could offer a clear vision of a Germany and a Europe that worked for their citizens, calling for deeper European integration and a “United States of Europe” by 2025.

“Europe does not always work for its people, rather too often for the big companies,” he said, outlining a populist vision that goes well beyond Merkel’s own openness to limited structural reforms and bureaucratic streamlining.

“The (European Union‘s) ability to act should be at the forefront now,” she said at a Berlin press conference. “So I will concentrate on more cooperation in defense by 2025 and on other issues,” including employment and innovation.

Outside the congress hall, SPD youth activists, many of whom want the party to chart a distinctive course after spending eight of the past 12 years in centrist coalitions, handed out red cards reading “No Grand Coalition”.

“Merkel leads this country without direction,” said one speaker addressing the conference. “She has no plan for Europe, she leads the country from week to week. We need a strong social democracy in this country.”

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