German SPD Leader Turns Down Foreign Minister Post in New Cabinet

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The leader of Germany's Social Democrats has given up his ambition to be foreign minister, days after agreeing to form a coalition with Angela Merkel.

Fourth, initially in return for the role of Foreign Minister, SPD leader Martin Schulz (re-elected just last year) made a decision to stand aside in favour of the party's federal parliament floor leader, Andrea Nahles (whose impassioned speech was considered a decisive moment at the Bonn conference, in stark contrast to Schulz's underwhelming performance).

The coalition breakthrough will come as a relief to Germany's European Union partners as the bloc faces tough negotiations on migration and Brexit. This had prompted unrest within Merkel's conservative ranks.

Many in the SPD fear that re-entering a coalition with Mrs Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Bavarian CSU could damage the party in the long term.

Mr Joffe added the election last year was a "popular vote of no-confidence" after losing supporters to the Alternative for Germany (AfD) following years of political turmoil after Europe's migration crisis in 2015, insisting it is now a "cosmic joke" the two parties are joining forces. After leading his party to its worst post-World War II election result, he vowed to take the Social Democrats into opposition.

The deal negotiated by Schulz in the coalition deal with Merkel's CDU/CSU gave the SPD six ministries as well as securing a string of policy concessions.

Julian Reichelt, editor-in-chief of the influential Bild daily, called it "the first SPD government led by a CDU chancellor".

He had previously ruled out both repeating the "grand coalition" for a third time under Merkel, and serving as a minister in her cabinet.

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Under the terms of the deal struck between Merkel and Schulz earlier this week, the SPD will keep the foreign ministry it held in the last government and also take over the finance ministry from the CDU.

Schulz's choice to step aside "deserves the highest respect and recognition", said Andrea Nahles, his likely successor as party chair.

"The party has to become younger and more female", he told reporters, flanked by Nahles.

The change could mean a mild shift away from the austerity imposed at home and overseas by former finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, although the parties agreed to stick to a balanced budget policy.

Her next step up the party ladder came in September past year when she was appointed SPD parliamentary leader, just weeks after the party's election result sunk to a mere 20.5% - its lowest level since modern Germany was founded.

A green light could see a new government in place by the end of next month.

The outcome of the yes-or-no referendum is expected on March 4.

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