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The leader of Germany's centre-left Social Democrats has said his party will join talks on forming a new government.

"There is nothing automatic about the direction we are moving in", Schulz said.

President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a fellow Social Democrat himself, had earlier met with Schulz on Thursday, asking him to back down and arguing that "this is the moment when all participants need to reconsider their attitude". "Only one thing is already completely clear: If talks lead to us taking part in government, in whatever form that might be, the members of our party will vote on it".

The move marks a U-turn for Schulz, who had previously ruled out any participation in a future government after he lost to Angela Merkel's conservative Union bloc in the September 24 vote.

The Social Democratic Party (SPD), which remained the second largest party in parliament, had refused to enter coalition talks with Merkel's CDU/CSU bloc.

Pressure has been mounting on SPD head Martin Schulz to drop his opposition to an alliance with Merkel after her efforts to form a government with three other parties collapsed on Sunday, raising the prospect of an unprecedented repeat election and months of political drift in Europe's biggest economy.

With the Social Democrats initially refusing to consider continuing the "grand coalition" they've had with Merkel over the past four years, that left a new election as a viable option.

Within members of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union and its ally the Christian Social Union, 84 percent favor Merkel as a future chancellor candidate and 82 percent want her to stay as CDU leader, the poll said.