Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and their pro-business allies opened talks Monday on forming a new German government, and Merkel said jobs and economic growth would be a top priority.

Merkel's Christian Democratic Union and its Bavaria-only sister, the Christian Social Union, won a majority in Germany's Sept. 27 election for a center-right government with their preferred allies, the Free Democrats.

That allows Merkel to end her awkward "grand coalition" with Germany's main center-left party, the Social Democrats.

"We want to look out for growth; we want to look out for jobs and the prosperity of our country," Merkel told reporters as the talks started.

"Every new government is a new beginning, and we want to create more courage for the future," said the Free Democrats' leader, Guido Westerwelle, who is expected to become the new vice chancellor.

Merkel has signaled that she wants to stick to the cautious, consensual stance that made her popular in her first term, saying repeatedly that she still views herself as "the chancellor of all Germans."

Both sides of the new government say tax cuts would boost the economy, ultimately boosting tax revenue.

But Merkel has advocated only modest middle-income tax relief, a proposal well short of the overhaul the Free Democrats want — with big cuts to both top and bottom income tax rates.

The partners' room for maneuver is limited by high government debt racked up to tackle the economic crisis.

Both sides want to halt a plan to shut down Germany's 17 nuclear power plants by 2021, and extend the lives of some until more renewable energy is available.

The Free Democrats' general secretary, Dirk Niebel, said Monday's talks had showed "a great deal of will to agree on the differing positions."

Merkel has said she wants the new government in place by the time Germany marks the 20th anniversary on Nov. 9 of the Berlin Wall's fall.

Negotiations are scheduled to continue at least through Oct. 18.

Also Monday, the leadership of the defeated Social Democrats formally nominated outgoing Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel to become the party's new chairman as it heads into opposition. Gabriel still needs approval from a party conference in November.