BERLIN (Reuters) - The Greens see themselves and their Social Democratic (SPD) allies as the new guardians of German commitment to resolving the euro zone crisis in contrast to the divisions in Angela Merkel's government that will be dramatized in a vote this week.
Germany's conservative chancellor, struggling to get her own majority in parliament on Thursday to grant new powers to the euro zone rescue mechanism, faces the possible humiliation of relying on the support of the center-left opposition.
With Merkel's coalition of Christian Democrats (CDU), the Bavarian CSU and the Free Democrats (FDP) split on Germany's reluctance to fund further bailouts for Greece, the center-left is leading opinion polls, has won a string of state votes, and is relishing an opportunity to appear statesmanlike on Europe.
"Our European neighbors can rest assured that there are two decidedly pro-European opposition parties who distinguish themselves from the increasingly anti-European CSU and the FDP, which is also on the way to becoming eurosceptic," said leading Greens politician Juergen Trittin.
The Greens have grown from being junior partners in Gerhard Schroeder's SPD-led government from 1998-2005 and the smallest group in parliament in the 2009 elections, to becoming a force to be reckoned with in regional and national politics.
Now present in all 16 German state assemblies and governing or sharing power in five states -- probably six after coalition talks in Berlin's regional assembly -- polls suggest the Greens would win about 20 percent if national elections were held now.
That would put them third behind the conservatives and SPD with enough for a winning "Red-Green" coalition -- especially since Merkel's FDP junior coalition partners, who won 14.6 percent in the 2009 elections, could fail to win a single seat.
The euro zone debate has lent urgency to such speculation with the center-left arguing that if Merkel does not manage her own majority in the September 29 vote on the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), her government should step down.
"If Merkel does not get her own majority on Thursday, it will be the end of this government," Trittin, one of two Greens parliamentary leaders and a former environment minister in the Schroeder government, told Reuters in an interview.
MERKEL STRUGGLES FOR MAJORITY
While Merkel's CDU/CSU and the FDP would still have a formal majority in the Bundestag (lower house), the loss of credibility on such a vital issue would make them unviable, Trittin said.
"In the middle of a huge crisis, if the biggest state in the euro zone has a minority government which relies on the goodwill of opposition parties, it is no longer in condition to lead through the crisis," said Trittin.
Merkel is trying to prevent Thursday's session in the Bundestag from turning into a vote of confidence, but Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has gone from urging government MPs to ensure a majority on the EFSF to saying any majority will do.
Germany's consensus-driven political system does not look kindly on sudden changes of power and Merkel is a more cautious figure than Schroeder, who threw his weakened government at the mercy of the electorate early in 2005 -- and failed.
But Trittin said doubts about Merkel's ability to get her own majority had dragged on for a year and she had lost a run of state votes "all of which makes it very unlikely the center-right will be reelected, to use Nordic understatement."
He said the Greens were more in line than Merkel with the rest of the European Union on proposals such as common euro zone bonds, which he said were "not a panacea" but a useful tool.
The Greens proposed a tax on financial transactions long before Merkel pushed for it and urged her in August to bring forward the permanent successor to the EFSF -- the European Stability Mechanism -- instead of waiting until 2013. This idea is now gaining weight among policymakers -- and already risks dividing Merkel's coalition.
"Sometimes it is amazing how quickly Green ideas get adopted," said Trittin, recalling that his party "was once laughed at for the Tobin tax or financial transaction tax, and today it's the official German government position."
(Writing by Stephen Brown)