German Chancellor Angela Merkel, weakened by poor election results, started talks Wednesday to forge an unlikely governing coalition from a motley crew of parties that span the political spectrum.
Merkel's conservatives, who won the September 24 vote without obtaining a clear majority, launched exploratory talks with the liberal and pro-business Free Democrats (FDP), then planned to meet from 1430 GMT the left-leaning and environmentalist Greens.
To avoid a breakdown that would force new elections, all sides will have to agree in the coming weeks on tough compromises on thorny topics ranging from immigration to EU reform to climate policy.
If the initial talks Wednesday go well, all sides will meet jointly on Friday to open negotiations that could form a government by perhaps January in the biggest EU economy.
The alliance, which would be a first for Germany at the national level, has been dubbed "Jamaica" because the parties' colours match the Caribbean country's flag - black for the conservatives, yellow for the FDP and green for Greens.
"If you embark on a voyage to Jamaica, you can expect stormy waters," said negotiator Alexander Dobrindt of the Bavarian CSU party before heading into the talks.
The delicate negotiations come as Merkel, long seen as Europe's most influential leader, is increasingly described as a lame duck, past the zenith of her power in what is widely expected to be her final term.
Critics are snapping at the heels of the veteran chancellor for delivering the worst election result since 1949 for her Christian Democrats (CDU), followed by a state election loss last Sunday.
"Up until two years ago Merkel appeared untouchable," the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper wrote. "That aura of invincibility is now gone. Her power, too, is on the wane."
"If the CDU had any kind of challenger waiting in the wings, Merkel would have reason to worry."