BERLIN • Talks on forming a new German coalition government "can work", Chancellor Angela Merkel said yesterday ahead of long negotiations in which she must forge a three-way alliance or risk seeing her 12-year stint in power come to an end.
Dr Merkel, 63, is trying to form an unlikely alliance between her conservatives, the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP) and the ecologist Greens - a combination untested at the national level - to allow her to govern for the fourth term as chancellor.
Exploratory talks on forming the coalition were held yesterday in order to allow the would-be allies to move on to formal negotiations. But the parties remained far apart on key issues, including immigration, finance and protecting the climate.
"We have very, very different positions," Dr Merkel told reporters.
"If it works - I think it can work - there can be a positive result at the end of today's negotiations. But this is a difficult task," she said as the talks proceeded yesterday afternoon.
"I expect the negotiations will go on for hours... I am ready to make my contribution."
Dr Merkel is under pressure from her own conservative bloc, in particular her Bavarian allies, the Christian Social Union (CSU), not to compromise too much to secure a coalition deal - in particular on the touchstone topic of immigration.
At stake is a plan by Dr Merkel's conservative bloc to cap the number of people Germany will accept per year on humanitarian grounds at 200,000 - a limit the environmentalist Greens reject.
"I don't know if we can resolve all the discrepancies, all the disagreements," said Mr Joachim Herrmann, a senior member of the CSU, the sister party of Dr Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU).
Mr Jens Spahn, a senior CDU member, told the Passauer Neue Presse: "There won't be a coalition at any price."
Negotiators were yesterday holding several rounds of talks in different formats before convening in the evening for what the German media is calling "the night of long knives".
Dr Merkel is a skilled negotiator, renowned at European Union summits for building pressure on her negotiating partners and playing on their fatigue. She must leverage all these skills to secure the three-way "Jamaica" coalition, so called because the parties' colours match those of the Caribbean country's flag.
"A failure of Jamaica would be her failure," the mass-circulation daily Bild wrote.
Dr Merkel's partner in Germany's previous "grand coalition", the centre-left Social Democratic Party, has said it now wants to rehabilitate itself in opposition after suffering its worst election result since 1933.
Failure to clinch a deal could lead to new elections - a scenario none of the negotiating parties wants for fear that the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) could make further gains after surging into Parliament in the Sept 24 national vote.
AfD co-leader Alice Weidel criticised the three-way coalition talks for failing to produce results, telling daily Die Welt: "If the (conservative) Union, FDP and Greens don't reach an agreement soon, there should be new elections."
Mr Guenther Oettinger, a Merkel ally and the EU's budget commissioner, told a business conference in Berlin that failure to reach a deal would strengthen far-right populism.
"That would hurt us in Europe," he said.