There had been "a first contact" with Sigmar Gabriel, the SPD leader, who had responded saying his party needed to hold a conference on Friday first.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Monday she had spoken to the leader of the Social Democrats (SPD) about joining a coalition with her Christian Democratic bloc, the winner of the German general election.

“We are open to talks,” she told reporters in Berlin. There had been “a first contact” with Sigmar Gabriel, the SPD leader, who had responded saying his party needed to hold a conference on Friday first.

Germany traditionally takes up to two months to form ruling coalitions, with parties first agreeing joint policies in detail.

Ms. Merkel’s CDU and its Bavaria-based sister party Christian Social Union won nearly 42 per cent of the votes on Sunday. The CDU/CSU alliance won 311 seats in a new parliament of 630 seats, just missing out on a majority.

The SPD gained 192 seats, the Greens 63 and the hard-left Die Linke 64.

Ms. Merkel said Ministers of the Free Democratic Party (FDP), her coalition partners who failed to win any seats, would “continue to responsibly perform the job of governing” until a new government was formed.

“That is expressed in the fact that the Foreign Minister is travelling to New York today,” she said. The minister, Guido Westerwelle, is scheduled to address the U.N. General Assembly there on Saturday.

She rejected suggestions that she form a minority government.

“Germany needs a stable government,” she said.

Asked if she had also put out feelers to Germany’s Greens Party, which could make up the numbers if the SPD were to refuse, Ms. Merkel said her conversation with Mr. Gabriel “does not rule other contacts out.” “We are ready to conduct talks,” the Greens co-leader Claudia Roth said.

At a separate news conference, Mr. Gabriel said formation of a grand coalition was not “automatic” and declined to say if there were any policy red lines his party would refuse to cross in negotiations.

“I cannot give you information about any of these questions,” he said.

A showdown is widely expected at the SPD conference on Friday between factions favouring a grand coalition and favouring a tripartite alliance with Die Linke.

Ms. Merkel said there would be no changes in German policy on the eurozone during her next chancellorship.

“The election result was a very strong mandate from the voters to exercise responsibility in Germany’s interest in Europe and in the world, and also a strong mandate for a united Europe,” she said.

“The course in European policy will not change,” she told her Berlin news conference.

FDP leader resigns

In other developments, Philipp Roesler, leader of the FDP, resigned. Mr. Roesler, who is Germany’s Economics Minister, said his party had suffered “a severe and enormous” defeat in the election.

Christian Lindner, who heads the FDP in the State of North Rhine-Westphalia, announced plans to stand for the leadership.

Peer Steinbrueck, the SPD candidate for chancellor in the election, had said he would not serve in a Merkel-led government, but planned to remain “on deck” in shaping the party’s future. At the news conference, he refused to explain the precise role he envisaged.

He has won praise for running a robust election campaign and slightly boosting the party’s support compared to 2009.

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