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German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks with Social Democratic Party (SPD) leader Martin Schulz as they attend a meeting of the Bundestag in Berlin, Germany, November 21, 2017. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt(reuters_tickers)
By Andrea Shalal
BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany's Social Democrats (SPD) faced pressure on Wednesday to consider offering coalition talks to Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives to settle the worst political crisis in modern German history.
A leader of the smaller Free Democrats (FDP) also raised the possibility of reviving coalition talks with the conservatives and Greens that collapsed at the weekend raising fears across Europe of stalemate in the EU's economic and political powerhouse. But the party chief later appeared to ruled it out.
The signs of possible flexibility came after President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, in a move unprecedented for a largely ceremonial position, intervened to promote talks that could avert a disruptive early repeat election.
SPD leader Martin Schulz, whose party had governed in coalition under Merkel since 2013, wants to go into opposition after September polls that knocked its support to the lowest levels since formation of the modern German republic in 1949.
But the mass-circulation Bild newspaper said 30 members of the SPD's 153-strong parliamentary group questioned that position this week at a meeting of the parliamentary party.
SPD lawmaker Johannes Kahrs, spokesman for the Seeheimer Circle, a conservative wing in the party, urged Schulz to keep an open mind when he meets on Thursday with Steinmeier.
Kahrs told the Passauer Neue Presse newspaper that the collapse of the coalition talks had changed the situation. "We cannot just tell the German president, 'Sorry, that's it.'"
Bild said German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who handed leadership of the SPD to Schulz and became foreign minister earlier this year, also favours a resumed grand coalition.
Germany, traditionally a bastion of stability in the EU, could face months of political stagnation, further complicating agreement on reforms of euro zone governance and EU defence and asylum policies.
Merkel, who remains acting chancellor until a government is agreed, has said she would prefer to work with the SPD. If that failed, she would favour new elections over an unstable minority government.
Merkel's 12-year hold on power was shaken at the September elections partly by the arrival of the anti-immigration AfD party in parliament.
Guenther Oettinger, an EU commissioner and member of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), urged the SPD to think again about its rejection of coalition talks.
"The long process of forming a government is weakening Germany's influence in Brussels," Oettinger told Der Spiegel newsmagazine in an interview to be published on Thursday.
Axel Schaefer, deputy head of the SPD's parliamentary group, urged the three political blocs to try again to reach agreement.
But he said his party would also talk with conservatives if asked to do so by Steinmeier, who is meeting with possible coalition partners this week.
A top official of the pro-business FDP told broadcaster ntv her party would not rule out reviving the three-way coalition talks if Merkel's conservatives and the Greens offered a "completely new package" of proposals.
"If it really was possible to build a modern republic in the coming years, then we are the last ones who would refuse to talk," FDP Secretary General Nicola Beer said.
But FDP chief Christian Lindner told Spiegel magazine: "For the foreseeable future, it is impossible to imagine cooperation with the Greens at the federal level."
Stephan Weil, the SPD premier of Lower Saxony who just completed a coalition agreement with conservatives in his state, has said a new election could leave few options other than a grand coalition anyway, the Sueddeutsche newspaper reported.
Joe Kaeser, chief executive of Siemens <SIEGn.DE>, told Die Welt newspaper that he hoped new elections could be avoided since the results would likely be little changed from Sept. 24.
A new poll released Wednesday showed that half of Germans favour a new election, while a fifth support a minority government. Only 18 percent want a renewal of the SPD-conservative coalition that ruled the past four years.
(Additional reporting by Michael Nienaber and Andreas Rinke; editing by Ralph Boulton)