BERLIN (AP) — The leader of Germany's center-left Social Democrats said Friday his party will join talks on forming a new government, reversing his stance and raising the prospect of an end to the political impasse that has existed since inconclusive national elections in September.
Martin Schulz told reporters in Berlin that the Social Democrats were now willing to meet with other parties, but insisted that the talks "won't automatically take a particular direction.
"Should the talks mean that we participate in the formation of a government, in whichever form or constellation, then our party members will vote on it first," he added.
The move marks a U-turn for Schulz, who had previously ruled out any participation in a future government after he lost to Angela Merkel's conservative Union bloc in the Sept. 24 vote.
Schulz said the party was moved to reconsider following a meeting with President Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Thursday.
Steinmeier called all mainstream parties for talks after Merkel failed to form a coalition with the left-leaning Greens and pro-business Free Democrats last weekend.
With the Social Democrats initially refusing to consider continuing the "grand coalition" they've had with Merkel over the past four years, that left a new election as a viable option.
Schulz said the talks would likely take several weeks and a ballot of party members, should it be required, could delay the formation of a new government even further.
Steinmeier's office on Friday said that he had asked Merkel, the head of her party's Bavaria-only Christian Social Union, Horst Seehofer, and Schulz in for joint talks next week.
Details haven't been finalized but Merkel has always suggested she's open to talking with the Social Democrats, and Schulz said his party would "naturally" accept Steinmeier's invitation.
David Rising contributed to this story.