Social Democrat (SPD) leader Martin Schulz apologized for his party's historically poor election results on Thursday as his party was poised to vote on whether or not to enter into another "grand coalition" with Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU).
"I would ask you all…for forgiveness for this bitter defeat," said Schulz, speaking at the SPD's convention in Berlin.
The SPD is expected to vote later on Thursday whether or not it wants to approach the CDU for preliminary coalition talks.
All eyes were on the Social Democrats as Germany racks up 74 days without a new government. The September 24 vote saw the country's two biggest parties — the CDU and SPD — take a tumble in the polls after four years of ruling together in a grand coalition.
Both ahead of and immediately after the election, Schulz and the SPD scoffed at the notion of governing with the CDU again. Schulz told Spiegel that it would be an act of "self-sacrifice" to be coalition partners.
Merkel, wary of forming a minority government with the CDU's 32.9 percent of the vote, initially approached the smaller Green party and pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) to build a three-pronged coalition.
However, a few weeks into preliminary talks those negotiations broke down when the FDP pulled out of the discussion.
SPD under pressure
Since then, the SPD has been under increasing pressure both domestically – and from European allies – to join the CDU in an effort to avoid fresh elections or a minority government.
Some in the SPD, especially the youth wing Jusos, are steadfastly against such a move, preferring to have a voice as the main opposition party. There are also concerns that being in a grand coalition made the SPD indistinguishable from the CDU in voters' eyes, leading to the party's 20.5 percent result in September's federal vote.
Schulz wanted the party to take sole responsibility for the poor showing, saying "neither Ms. Merkel nor the grand coalition … are responsible for the state of the SPD."
'United States of Europe' by 2025
During his speech on Thursday, Schulz also called for establishing a "United States of Europe" within the next seven years.
"Why don't we decide ... to realize these United States of Europe by 2025 at the latest?" he asked, adding that the new union would have powers over foreign policy, taxes and domestic security.
Schulz, a former head of the European Parliament, also said EU member states that refused to ratify the treaty establishing the union would be forced to leave the bloc.
The head of the CSU parliamentary group in the German Bundestag, Alexander Dobrindt, immediately criticized Schulz's proposal.
Someone who wants the end of nation states in the next seven years and wants to "throw out member states that do not bow to this demand must be called a European radical," he said. Europe, he added, works "only as a team project and not as a campaign against those who are of a different opinion."
amp, es/ng (dpa, Reuters, AFP)