BERLIN (Reuters) - A senior Social Democrat (SPD) politician said Germany needed a stable government able to play a leadership role in the European Union, in the clearest signal yet that the party would open coalition talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives.
In an interview late on Thursday, Hamburg mayor Olaf Scholz, who is the center-left party's deputy chair, said Germany had a responsibility to Europe to form a stable government and urged colleagues not to clutter negotiations with unhelpful red lines.
"Germany needs a stable government because it's the biggest country in the European Union," he said.
The SPD, bruised by its disastrous showing in September's national election, when voters deserted it after four years in coalition with Merkel, had originally planned to go into opposition.
But after Merkel failed to assemble an alternative three-way coalition, senior SPD leaders have concluded they have a responsibility to govern and are attempting to convince reluctant party members to give their consent.
The party's leadership was meeting on Friday morning to discuss an invitation from Merkel's conservative camp to enter coalition talks, with party leader Martin Schulz expected to give an answer in the early afternoon.
For Merkel, winning over the SPD is her only realistic chance of securing a fourth term in office, meaning many in the SPD hope to sell the about-face to members by implementing a raft of popular worker-friendly measures.
But while Scholz told public broadcaster NDR that the party needed to push signature themes like employment and education, it should avoid hampering negotiations by setting down red lines.
"I don't think much of red lines: they mean that instead of talking to each other, you're just sending each other messages. That's not negotiation," he said.
In some areas, notably migration policy, the SPD will struggle to achieve concessions. While the SPD wants to retain the right for successful asylum seekers to bring their families, Merkel's arch-conservative Bavarian allies, fearing defeat in regional elections next year, are equally adamant that it should be scrapped.
A poll for ARD television showed that 61 percent of voters would support a renewed "grand coalition" between the conservatives and the SPD.
Any agreement to help form a new government could fall short of a formal coalition. Many in the SPD advocate various forms of minority government or ad hoc governing contract would better preserve the SPD's identity among disillusioned core voters.
(Reporting By Thomas Escritt, Editing by William Maclean)