Former European Parliament speaker and leader of the German Social Democrat party (SPD) Martin Schulz announced today he will abandon his plan to serve as German foreign minister, seeking to end a party row over his role and boost support among members for a new ‘grand coalition’ with Angela Merkel’s conservatives.

Schulz has also left his position as SPD chief, announcing he would hand over his role as party leader to Andrea Nahles.

Schulz had already announced on February 7 that he would resign as SPD chairman to become German foreign minister, triggering widespread criticism as he had promised ahead of the September election that he would not serve in a new government led by Chancellor Angela Merkel.

His announcement also upset Germany’s current foreign minister – veteran SPD member Sigmar Gabriel – who complained of a “lack of respect” and said he was popular among ordinary Germans.

Senior SPD members also pressured their leader into dropping his demand to be the foreign minister as part of the grand coalition – or GroKro.

The shock announcement comes just days after Merkel’s conservatives and the SPD agreed to form a coalition government.

In a statement on February 9, Schulz said he thought the discussion about him and his role could hurt support for the new coalition once the SPD members vote.

A Forsa poll showed almost three-quarters of Germans thought it would be wrong for Schulz to become foreign minister, while only around a quarter thought that would be the right move.

Merkel faced an uphill struggle to maintain power for another four years following a disastrous election campaign.

SPD members will vote on the final coalition deal between February 20 and March 2.