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The German social democrats, fired by their new leader Martin Schulz, have beaten chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives in an opinion poll for the first time in more than a decade, scoring 31 per cent against 30 per cent for the chancellor’s Christian Democrat/Christian Socialist bloc.

The surprise result comes just as Ms Merkel and her challengers are preparing for Bundestag elections in September, increasing the the possibilities that the once seemingly-invulnerable chancellor might yet suffer a shock defeat.

The result is the first time the SPD has ever led in a poll by the Insa agency, which started polling in 2009. The party last led in polls by other agencies in October 2006.

The numbers overshadowed a press conference at which Ms Merkel and Horst Seehofer, the head of the Bavaria-based Christian Socialists, announced that they would be fighting the election campaign together after weeks of delay.

The CDU and CSU have traditionally joined forces behind a single chancellorship candidate. But Mr Seehofer had withheld his support in a bid to force Ms Merkel to toughen her controversial refugee policies and set an annual quota for asylum-seekers.

On Monday, he pledged his support for Ms Merkel, even though the quota argument remains unresolved and the two parties will present the voters with differing refugee policies.

Mr Schulz, the former president of the European Parliament, has shaken politics since he took over as SPD leader from Sigmar Gabriel late last month, and was chosen to as the party’s candidate for the chancellorship.

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