BERLIN (AP) — Chancellor Angela Merkel says she expects exploratory talks on a new German coalition, the first step toward forming a government for Europe's biggest economy, to take several weeks.

Germany's Sept. 24 election left Merkel with very limited options to form a government. At present, the only realistic choice is a coalition of her conservatives, the pro-business Free Democrats and the traditionally left-leaning Greens. The combination has never been tried at national level.

The parties plan to hold initial talks this week, after a standstill caused by a state election Sunday in Lower Saxony.

The Greens will hold a party congress after the exploratory talks to decide whether to enter formal coalition negotiations. Merkel said Monday she expects the first phase to delve into "political substance" and last "several weeks."