But after four years in an unwieldy coalition with the Social Democrats, that party vowed to go into opposition. The move left Ms. Merkel, 63, with little choice but to try to bring together four parties with conflicting opinions on key issues, including policies on refugees and migration, finance and climate change.
“The responsibility for the people and the future of our country unites us,” read the opening paragraph of a draft document circulated late Thursday, as the talks entered what was supposed to be their final round. Ms. Merkel had set a deadline of Thursday for the exploratory talks to conclude, in an effort to create a new government before Christmas.
“Through the outcome of the election, we are faced with the task of building a capable and successful government,” the preliminary agreement read.
That spirit of responsibility has held the parties together through four weeks of negotiations that some seasoned lawmakers have described as the most difficult task they have ever undertaken. They have searched for compromises, even as individual members took turns sniping at one another for failing to concede on points they considered a condition of their participation.
“We have very, very different positions,” Ms. Merkel told reporters before she prepared to meet with negotiators on Thursday in the German Parliamentary Society building, in the shadow of the Reichstag, which houses Parliament. “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.”
Each side brought its own agenda to the table, as well as fears of being punished by voters if they gave up too much on campaign promises. The Free Democrats, for instance, have just returned to Parliament after four years without representation, drawing 10.7 percent of the vote. They spent four years as a junior coalition partner in Ms. Merkel’s government, which many in the party see as having cost them seats.
Ms. Merkel herself is under pressure from the right wing of her conservative bloc, especially the Bavarian sister party of the Christian Democratic Union, which is urging her not to backtrack on a commitment she made last month to limit to 200,000 the number of people allowed to apply for asylum in Germany.
Bavaria found itself on the front line of the European migration crisis in 2015, when roughly a million refugees and migrants crossed into Germany and hundreds of thousands of people sought asylum. Fears of a reprisal cost the Christian Social Union votes in September, most of which went to the AfD, a vocal opponent of Germany’s migration policy.
With a state election looming next year, the Christian Social Union is concerned that it could lose its majority in the Bavarian legislature if it is perceived as weak on immigration.
But the Greens consider a cap on the number of people that Germany can take in for humanitarian reasons a “no-go.” While the party has been willing to water down its demands on several climate issues, it is adamant that Germany not abandon its humanitarian principles.