Social Democrats sign up to new Merkel-led German government

BERLIN Germany's Social Democrats decisively backed another coalition with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives on Sunday, clearing the way for a new government in Europe's largest economy after months of political uncertainty.

Two thirds of the membership voted "yes" to the deal in a ballot - a wider margin than many had expected - meaning Merkel could be sworn in for a fourth term as early as the middle of the month in a repeat of the grand coalition that has governed since 2013.

"I think it's good for our country that this period of uncertainty is over," German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said, adding that he would on Monday propose Merkel's election as chancellor to the lower house of parliament.

The challenges are piling up for 63-year-old Merkel, who has been acting chancellor for more than five months since an inconclusive election, with the European Union looking for leadership on economic and security issues and France seeking a partner for President Emmanuel Macron's EU reform plans.

Mr Macron hailed the development as "good news for Europe". A statement from his office added: "France and Germany will work together on new initiatives in the coming weeks to bring the European project forward."

In power since 2005, Merkel steered the European bloc through the financial crisis and debt crisis, but her authority was dented by her 2015 decision to open Germany's borders to migrants, resulting in an influx of more than a million people.