BERLIN (AP) -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday welcomed the Social Democrats' vote in favor of a new ruling coalition and said "it's important that as government we start quickly with our work."
Merkel spoke to reporters in Berlin a day after the center-left Social Democrats voted overwhelmingly to remain in a coalition with Merkel's conservatives, giving her the support needed to secure a fourth term as the leader of Europe's most powerful economy.
Parliament is expected to meet March 14 to re-elect Merkel as chancellor, ending the longest time Germany has been without a new government after an election in its postwar history. The national election was Sept. 24.
"Almost six months after election day, the people in Germany have the right that something is happening and that we implement what we have said we would do," Merkel said.
Merkel also stressed that it was important for Europe to have a functioning German government again.
"Every day we see, every day we hear that Europe is needed and that a strong, united voice of Germany and France and other member countries is needed," Merkel said.
In a veiled reference to the United States under President Donald Trump, Merkel also cited the threat of protectionism as well as trade competition with China and the war in Syria as challenges the 28-nation bloc must face.
"Whether it's the question of international trade policy, which is for example a very up-to-date issue — many jobs are dependent on that — whether it's the question of open competition with China, or whether it is questions of peace and war, as the situation in Syria shocks us every day," Merkel said, citing issues that need to be tackled quickly.
Merkel, who has proved herself a shrewd international negotiator during more than 12 years in office, faced her greatest challenge at home after deciding to allow over a million asylum-seekers into Germany since 2015. An anti-migrant party came in third in last year's election, upending Germany's traditional coalition calculus.
The Social Democrats were initially reluctant to extend their coalition with Merkel, but eventually agreed to a deal that gives them control of the foreign, labor and finance ministries — three major portfolios — in return for supporting some curbs on immigration.
With Merkel's bloc and the second-place Social Democrats in government, the right-wing Alternative for Germany, or AfD, now represents the biggest opposition party in Parliament, giving it a prominent platform to attack the chancellor.