It was their worst-ever election performance in post-war German history, and many Social Democrats blamed the compromises the party made as part of the grand coalition that has governed Germany for the past four years.
Speaking at a news conference after a key party executive meeting in Berlin, Martin Schulz sharply criticized Christian Democrats for leaking information to the media, after a crisis summit hosted by President Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Thursday.
The three party leaders discussed various options for forming a government, including a Merkel-led minority government, but they voiced scepticism about this option, said the party official who spoke on the condition of anonymity and on the condition the party not be named.
Merkel's party stressed however that was it was seeking is a renewal of its alliance with the SPD, to form a "stable government" for Europe's biggest economy.
In a sign of the ongoing friction between Schulz and Merkel's bloc that may make negotiations hard, he blamed the Bild report on a leak from her side and said he had telephoned her Friday to say it was "unacceptable". "That's exactly what I will propose to the party leadership on Monday", Schulz said.
"Whoever circulates false reports destroys trust", he said.
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Bild daily reported earlier on Friday that the SPD had greenlighted coalition talks after discussions among Schulz, Christian Democratic Union's (CDU) leader Angela Merkel and Christian Social Union (CSU) leader Horst Seehofer on Thursday evening.
"We have a lot of options for building a government".
Schulz, a former president of the European Parliament, has said he wants changes in Germany's approach to the European Union and in economic and social policy.
In particular, he said he would demand German support for Emmanuel Macron's proposals for a Brussels-based finance minister and single budget for the Eurozone.
Schulz previously opposed a "grand coalition" with the CDU/CSU, arguing that the election result meant voters had rejected the option of another grand coalition between the SPD and the CDU/CSU.