59-year-old Merkel walked with the help of crutches to join cabinet colleagues from her Christian Democratic Union (CDU), its Bavarian sister party Christian Social Union (CSU) and the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) for their opening session, nearly three weeks after she began her record third term.
She has been advised by doctors to restrict her official activities and to take bed rest for three weeks to recover from a partial fracture of her pelvis when she fell during a cross-country skiing in the Swiss Alpine resort of Engadin during her Christmas holiday. She had cancelled several official appointments, including a visit to Poland.
However, Merkel has been under pressure to show her authority after a series of disputes among her coalition partners came out in the open since the cabinet was sworn in on 17 December. Fears of a mass influx of migrants from Romania and Bulgaria were raised by some CSU leaders in the wake of the EU lifting its restrictions on them to work anywhere in the 28-nation bloc on 1 January.
The CSU politicians have warned against "poverty immigration" from these countries and demanded that Germany's welfare benefits must be withheld from immigrants during the first three months and those involved in fraud must be deported and banned from re-entering.
The SPD denounced the CSU's call as "populism" and "campaign manoeuvring" ahead of the election to the European Parliament in May. The social democrats also pointed out that freedom of movement is fundamental to the EU rules and an integral part of the European integration.
Germany has benefited more than others in the EU from the freedom of movement and the CSU's call is damaging not only for this country but also for the EU, they said. The cabinet decided to set up a committee involving state secretaries from several ministries to investigate the alleged abuse of welfare system by migrants from eastern Europe and to come up with proposals to tackle them.
The deal was sealed after more than three months of negotiations, the longest in Germany's post-war history.