German coalition under strain as SPD leader falls from grace

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GERMAN Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel lashed out today at his likely successor, Martin Schulz, saying his party colleague had broken a promise not to serve in Chancellor Angela Merkel's new cabinet.

Any agreement will be submitted to a ballot of the Social Democrats' members, a process that will take a few weeks.

And in Berlin they demanded that Germany return to the European Union leadership position. Then, the party could hardly stake a credible claim to field the next chancellor, and would also have ruled out joining a coalition government, leaving electors to puzzle over the point of voting SPD.

Schulz said, growing debate surrounding his bid for Foreign Ministry portfolio, could jeopardize the upcoming vote of SPD members on the coalition agreement.

The pitch is created to appeal to his party's 464,000 members before they vote on the deal, which is the final hurdle the SPD needs to pass before the government can be formed.

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Germany's new Social Democrat leader, Andrea Nahles, shot to national political fame during the fraught days of the last SPD government 15 years ago when, as a left-wing lawmaker, she helped lead a party rebellion against its tough social reforms. The results from that are due in early March, and that vote is now looking too close to call either way.

Many SPD members are still bruised from the last time the party joined forces with Angela Merkel, which resulted in their worst election result since the 1930s.

Many Social Democrats have blamed their poor showing on the party's membership in the previous "grand coalition".

Faced with snap elections that could further boost the AfD or the prospect of heading an unstable minority government, she opted to woo back the SPD - her junior partner for two of her three terms since 2005. But the cost of the deal is high, strengthening the Social Democratic Party's (SPD) hand in pursuing European integration and signaling the German chancellor's limits as Europe's de-facto leader. In addition to the controversy over Schulz, Merkel herself has been under fire for giving key ministries to the SPD to extend her 12-year reign over Europe's biggest economy.

For the SPD, the backbiting went public when Gabriel, Germany's acting foreign minister, attacked the leadership for planning to remove him from his post - and implying that he'd been promised that he could continue as the country's top diplomat. He reversed course, however, after Merkel's coalition talks with two smaller parties collapsed in November.

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