BERLIN — Germany’s Social Democrats plan to establish a cutoff date after which new members won’t be able to participate in a crucial upcoming vote on whether to join a new government, party officials said Wednesday.

The move reflect growing annoyance among the party leadership about efforts by its youth wing to recruit new, short-term members in a bid to scuttle a coalition with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Union bloc.

The Young Socialists and the left wing of the party launched the campaign Monday offering two months’ membership for 10 euros ($12.25) and expressly urged new recruits to oppose a possible renewal of the “grand coalition.”

The party registered 1,700 news members within the first day of the membership drive, according to German news agency dpa.

Deputy Social Democratic leader Thorsten Schaefer-Guembel slammed the campaign Wednesday, saying “whoever lets it be known that he’s transferring 10 euros and then will leave the party has no interest in social democracy.”

“A short-term membership with the goal to influence our vote is contrary to our principles,” he told the RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland news group.

The Social Democrats have been in a coalition with Merkel’s bloc since 2013. But after taking a beating in September’s election, many in the party have argued they would be better off in opposition focusing on core issues most important to their base.

Party leader Martin Schulz and other top Social Democrats have urged going ahead with a new coalition, however, arguing being in government power gives them better opportunities to pass legislation important to their voters.

Schulz’s side narrowly won a vote Sunday to start coalition negotiations with Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and Bavaria-only sister party, the Christian Social Union. Formal talks are set to get underway Friday.

Once an agreement is reached, however, It will be submitted to a ballot of the more-than 440,000-strong membership of the Social Democrats for approval or rejection.

Party member Hilde Mattheis defended the campaign for new members Wednesday, saying on Deutschlandfunk radio that anyone should be allowed to join and nobody could say how new members would vote.

Still, the party told dpa they planned to establish early next week a cut-off date for when new members could take part in the vote.

The party’s secretary-general, Lars Klingbeil, told public broadcaster rbb-Inforadio on Wednesday that he welcomed new members but that encouraging people to join only for the purpose of voting against a coalition deal devalued what Social Democratic membership meant.

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DAVID RISING and FRANK JORDANS
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