HANOVER, Germany (Reuters) - Germany's Greens do not want to form a coalition with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives after elections next year, but hope to poach their voters, the party's co-chairman said on Friday.
There has been growing speculation that the party, which began as a peacenik ecological movement on the far left, may be heading for the unthinkable - a partnership with Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) that would keep her in power.
Greens co-chairman Cem Oezdemir, speaking at the start of a three-day party congress, tried to dampen talk that the Greens would form such an alliance if they failed to win a majority with their preferred partners, the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD).
"We don't want the union and some people haven't quite figured that out yet," Oezdemir told the 710 delegates. "We only want their voters. In 2013 we want to rule together with the SPD. Let's not let this discussion drive us crazy."
The speculation has erupted in the last week after the Greens picked a moderate with strong appeal among conservative voters, Katrin Goering-Eckardt, as one of their two lead candidates for 2013.
Analysts believe the Greens, who shared power with the SPD from 1998 to 2005, would quickly ditch the party on election night if their choices were either getting into bed with the CDU, or spending another four years in opposition.
An opinion poll published by ZDF on Friday showed Merkel's conservatives with 39 percent but their Free Democrats (FDP) allies at 4 percent - falling short of the 5 percent hurdle needed for seats in parliament.
The Greens were at 13 percent and the SPD at 30 percent - not enough for a majority.
These relatively stable polls would mean Merkel would probably try to form a coalition with the SPD or the Greens.
In a remarkable appeal to conservative voters, Oezdemir said that the Greens might have once been a small party but were now making the CDU nervous with an emphasis on "conservative values" and their unabashed efforts to appeal to a broader spectrum.
"Obviously we're conservative in some ways, but conservative without the resentment and chauvinism of the right," he said, even drawing applause for the comments that a few years earlier could have caused him to be booed off the stage.
"We have conservative values but not conservative structures. We're not trying to maintain the conservative lobby structures and the conservative power base. We're also leftist because we want a just an emancipated society."
Support for the Greens, who rule the conservative state of Baden-Wuerttemberg with the SPD as junior partners, had climbed as high as 24 percent last year in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster before retreating. It has climbed steadily in recent months to around 15 percent in some polls.
Reporting By Erik Kirschbaum; Editing by Pravin Char