by Guo Xinyu, He Mengshu
BERLIN, Dec. 14 (Xinhua) -- Germany's Social Democrats (SPD) approved the party's deal with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives on forming a "grand coalition" government, results of a binding members' ballot showed on Saturday.
The approval clears the way for Germany's two biggest parties to rule Europe's biggest economy for the next four years.
About 76 percent of all the valid ballots cast were in favor of a grand coalition with Merkel's conservative bloc of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU), SPD treasurer Barbara Hendricks told a press conference.
SPD chief Sigmar Gabriel said the party has "set a new standard" in terms of member participation and is "not only the oldest but also the most modern party" in Germany, adding that "it's been a long time since I was so proud to be a Social Democrat."
Merkel congratulated Gabriel on the positive outcome of the vote and is looking forward to working with the SPD in a grand coalition, news magazine Spiegel reported on Saturday.
CDU General Secretary Hermann Groehe also congratulated the SPD, saying the CDU is "pleased to see that the joint government work can now quickly start."
"The coalition agreement makes a good foundation to ensure that Germany remains successful and people will live a even better life in the next four years," Spiegel quoted Groehe as saying.
The line-up of the 15-member cabinet will be announced by the leaders of the three parties on Sunday. Negotiators of coalition talks had said the CDU and the SPD will get six ministerial posts each, and the CSU will take three.
Local media quoted party sources as saying that Gabriel would be vice chancellor and "super-minister" on economy and energy issues, putting him in charge of Germany's green energy transition, while Frank-Walter Steinmeier would be foreign minister, a post he served during Merkel's first term from 2005-2009.
Meanwhile, local paper Rheinische Post said Friday that CDU veteran Wolfgang Schaeuble would remain as finance minister.
Merkel will be reelected chancellor in a vote in the lower house of parliament on Tuesday and the new government will then be sworn into office.
END OF POLITICAL LIMBO
And thus Germany has a new government at last. The SPD approval put an end to more than two months of political limbo after the Sept. 22 elections when Merkel's CDU and CSU bloc proved to be the biggest winner with 41.5 percent of votes, while the SPD took 25.7 percent.
However, without a majority of the parliament seats, the CDU/CSU bloc had to form a coalition with the center-left SPD as in Merkel's 2005-2009 first term.
Such a grand coalition is supported by most Germans, as a poll for public broadcaster ZDF published Friday showed that 49 percent of Germans welcome a grand coalition while 33 percent opposed it.
But the grand coalition can only become a reality if a majority of the SPD members back the proposed coalition deal. Some SPD members harbor skepticism on becoming Merkel's junior partner again. The party suffered a electoral defeat in 2009 after serving as Merkel's junior coalition party in her first term.
SPD chief Gabriel has worked hard to convince his party members to support the left-right government as he won key concessions from Merkel's camp on the SPD's core concerns and centerpiece policies during the coalition talks.
During the coalition talks, the SPD insisted on the introduction of a national minimum wage of 8.50 euros (11.41 U.S. dollars) per hour, which was a key election platform. Although Merkel has repeatedly reiterated her opposition to the national minimum wage on concerns that it would destroy jobs, she finally gave in.
The national statutory minimum wage is scheduled to be introduced in Germany from January 2015. Merkel said earlier that she would try to prevent job losses that may be caused by the move.
Among other agreed policies proposed by the SPD, dual citizenship will be allowed for children who grew up in Germany and were born after 1990 to foreign parents. Currently they have to choose between German citizenship and that of their parents when they reach 23 years of age.
But the CDU held its ground as the parties agreed there should be no tax rises. The SPD had demanded to raise taxes on incomes above 100,000 euros to 49 percent from 42 percent. Merkel has said such tax hike plans would risk spoiling the good situation of the country's economy.
According to the agreement, the new government would spend an additional 23 billion euros by 2017 without tax increases. The government would also not undertake new borrowing from 2015. The additional money would be invested in areas including infrastructure, education, research and development.
Other agreed policies included lower retirement age from 67 to 63 for those who made pension contribution for 45 years and reform the current Renewable Energy Act.
Both sides also agreed on pushing for a European level financial transaction tax, and structural reforms in European Union member states in order to improve their competitiveness and growth.
The eurozone debt crisis will remain the dominant issue among the new government's European agenda, though foreign policy took a back seat during the election and coalition talks.
Merkel is expected to continue championing painful structural reforms and spending cuts by indebted countries, despite the SPD's call for more pro-growth measures during the election campaign.