The Social Democratic Party (SPD), the Greens and the Freedom Party (FDP) will begin formal negotiations this Thursday to form a coalition government in Germany after the 26 September elections, in which the Social Democrats were the most voted party.
The first meeting, which will begin this afternoon, will be attended by six representatives from each party, at federal, regional and municipal levels, as well as the leaders of the working groups.
At the moment the only clear date is the start of negotiations today and the aim of reaching an agreement on forming a government before Christmas.
The formal start of talks in each working group - 22 in all - is scheduled for next week, and the negotiations, according to those involved, could last at least three to four weeks, according to ARD public television.
After that, the negotiating teams, which include the candidates in September's elections and the party chairmen, will have the task of incorporating the results of these talks into a final coalition agreement.
If an agreement is reached, Germany would for the first time at the federal level have a traffic light coalition between the Social Democrats, Greens and Liberals, named after the colours representing the parties.
The start of formal negotiations comes after a phase of talks both bilaterally - between the Greens and Liberals - to sound out whether there really is a chance of bringing the parties closer together, and separately with the Social Democrats and Christian Democrats, as well as one-on-one meetings.