BERLIN - German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives will Thursday meet the Greens party for initial coalition talks, sounding out an alliance that is seen as unlikely but not impossible.
The exploratory talks with the left-leaning ecologist party are part of Merkel's hunt for a governing partner after her conservatives won September 22 elections but fell short of a ruling majority.
Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian sister party the CSU are already engaged in talks with the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), who are widely seen as the more likely ally.
But - should those talks fail or SPD rank-and-file members revolt against a 'grand coalition' deal - Merkel could surprise voters by seeking to team up with the party the CDU long deemed radicals.
"The chances of a coalition with the Greens have risen in recent days from 'theoretical' to 'conceivable'," Environment Minister Peter Altmayer told this week's edition of news magazine Der Spiegel.
The Greens' new duo of leaders, Katrin Goering-Eckardt and Anton Hofreiter, said Wednesday they were willing to talk but remained sceptical, vowing to stick to their guns on the values they hold dear.
"We want to keep fighting for a more ecological, just and modern country," said Hofreiter, as both leaders stressed they want a far stronger push for clean energy and to combat climate change, and greater rights for immigrants and other minorities.
The Greens, who grew out of the environmentalist, anti-war and anti-nuclear movements, entered parliament in the 1980s, many wearing sneakers and long hair and handing out sunflowers.
But what started as a protest party has become increasingly mainstream as German society has turned greener.
Many of the Greens' demands, such as greater rights for gays and lesbians and immigrants, are now widely shared, at least in theory. Millions now recycle their garbage, shop organic, ride bicycles to work and have solar panels on their roofs.
The Greens have already had a stint in government, with the SPD from 1998-2005, during which the once avowedly pacifist party signed off on Germany's military deployment to Afghanistan.