(CNN) -- Germany's Social Democrats have given the green light for their party to enter preliminary coalition talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel's party in a vote that could trigger an end to the country's political deadlock.
More than 600 SPD delegates gathered on Thursday in Berlin and debated the question for several hours before voting overwhelmingly for the exploratory talks to begin.
In a speech earlier in the day, party chief Martin Schulz -- who is facing a vote on his own leadership later on Thursday -- called for a "yes" vote in spite of significant misgivings.
Schulz had ruled out entering a coalition with the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Christian Social Union (CSU) -- the so-called "Grand Coalition" that has ruled Germany for the last four years -- but has recently retreated from his position.
"It's not about the question of Grand Coalition or no Grand Coalition, minority government or no minority government," he said on Thursday.
"No, it's about the question: how can we live up to our responsibility, both today and towards the next generation?"
He insisted that the party would not enter a new coalition without policy concessions from Merkel. "Governing cannot come at any price," he said.
The news comes after nearly three weeks of deadlock following the collapse of coalition talks between Merkel's alliance, the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP) and the Green Party after federal elections in September.
In a bid to avoid the possibility of fresh elections, Germany's President Frank-Walter Steinmeier stepped in to break the deadlock, issuing what Schulz described as a "dramatic appeal" for his party to consider coalition talks.
Formal talks between the parties are unlikely to start until the new year.
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