Schulz drops bid for foreign minister job, quits as SDP leader

Merkel has left herself with precious little room for manouvre

"I sincerely hope that this (decision) will end the personnel debates within the SPD", Schulz, a former president of the European Parliament, said in a statement.

"My own personal ambitions must be placed behind the interests of the party".

It was Schulz's second major U-turn since the September elections that ground the storied centre-left party down to just 20.5% of the vote.

Mrs Merkel has handed all the top ministries in Germany, including finance and foreign, to the SPD - the price the party demanded to form a government with her following an indecisive general election past year which saw her party's majority slashed by the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany upstarts.

A deal to govern with Chancellor Merkel's conservatives still has to be endorsed by SPD members.

The agreement, reached in record time to end months of political paralysis after Ms. Merkel had failed to form a coalition with two smaller parties, faces its first test when the SPD's membership vote on March 4 on whether to ratify it.

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Schulz's surprise announcement on Friday came two days after he struck a deal with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative bloc CDU/CSU to form a grand coalition government.

Schulz, 62, will also step down as party chairman, and his likely, 47-year-old successor, Andrea Nahles, said the party would now focus on policy content ahead of the ballot.

A survey by pollsters Civey found this week that around 60 percent of SPD supporters would back the party entering government once again.

Nahles said in an interview with ZDF television this week she was confident the "very bold" left-wing character of the contract with Merkel would win members over.

Grassroots organizations in the SPD, including the party's youth wing, are already campaigning for a no-vote on the coalition deal.

"The CDU is structurally weakened in the government and loses influence" under the deal, influential lawmaker Norbert Roettgen said. "But her farewell to power has begun, and thereby the debate about her succession", news weekly Der Spiegel commented.

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