BERLIN: German Chancellor Angela Merkel, bruised by half a year of post-election coalition haggling, on Wednesday starts her fourth and likely final term at the helm of Europe's biggest economy.
Lawmakers in Berlin's glass-domed Reichstag will vote from 0800 GMT to re-elect Merkel before she is appointed at 1000 GMT by President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and takes the oath of office an hour later.
For the veteran leader, the ceremony will mark the end of a painful stretch of post-election paralysis, the deepest crisis in her 12-year career.
A right-wing populist rise in a September election weakened all mainstream parties and deprived Merkel of a majority, forcing her into another unhappy alliance with the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD).
The grand coalition, mockingly dubbed a "GroKo", didn't start as a "love marriage", her designated vice chancellor and finance minister, the SPD's Olaf Scholz, drily observed Monday.
All coalition partners nonetheless sought to allay fears that their marriage of convenience could break up mid-term, insisting they plan to jointly govern until 2021.
"We have got a lot of work ahead of us," said Merkel.
And Horst Seehofer of her conservative Bavarian CSU allies declared it was time to "get a move on" after months of paralysis.
From 1600 GMT, Merkel sits down with her new cabinet, in which the SPD has wrested both the trophy posts of finance and foreign affairs to the dismay of a growing band of critics within her Christian Democratic Union (CDU).
In coming days Merkel will head to Paris to discuss EU reform plans with French President Emmanuel Macron ahead of a March 22-23 summit, after a six-months stretch in which Berlin was hamstrung on the European and world stage.
'Black zero' policy
Merkel's incoming coalition has broadly welcomed Macron's bold reform plans, meant to reinvigorate the bloc and counter extremists and populists who have made major gains in western democracies.
She has argued that the EU must increasingly look after its own interests in the era of US President Donald Trump, who has questioned long-standing transatlantic defence ties and threatened a trade war.
Berlin advocates closer EU cooperation on defence, immigration and plans for a European Monetary Fund. But it is lukewarm on the idea of a joint eurozone finance minister and rejects any pooling of debt.
Scholz, who takes over from CDU fiscal hawk Wolfgang Schaeuble, has made clear he will stick with Berlin's cherished "black zero" policy of avoiding new public debt.
The rise of populist fringe parties is also the central domestic threat for Merkel's new coalition, which will face the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) as the biggest opposition party.
The AfD scored almost 13 percent in the election, capitalising on public fears over a mass influx of more than one million refugees and migrants since 2015 and angrily demanding that "Merkel must go".
Some of its most extreme members believe its is time for Germany to stop apologising for the Holocaust, others recently visited Damascus to argue that Germany can safely repatriate Syrian refugees.
'Need for new answers'
The shock rise of the AfD has come at the expense of the CDU, CSU and especially the SPD, all of which suffered their worst results in decades in September.
While Merkel's last GroKo had a crushing 80 percent parliamentary majority, the margin has shrunk to 56 percent.
To answer the new right-wing threat, Seehofer has pledged a "zero tolerance" law and order drive as the head of a new "interior and homeland" super-ministry.
The term for homeland, "Heimat", much derided for evoking Alpine vistas, beer and bratwurst, is intended to recapture claims to patriotism from the AfD.
Seehofer, whose southern state was the main gateway for the mass migrant influx, has also pledged to speed up deportations of failed asylum-seekers.
Scholz has pledged to tackle another fear exploited by populists, of vanishing jobs in the age of globalisation and rapid technological change.
"When we look at the Trump election, Brexit and the success of right-wing populist parties in many European countries," Scholz said, "we see there is a clear need to find new answers to the challenges of the 21st century."