BERLIN (Reuters) - The premier of the German state of Hesse plans to break ranks with the rest of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative party and seek a regional coalition with the Greens rather than the Social Democrats (SPD), a senior SPD politician said on Friday.
Hesse, home to Germany's financial capital Frankfurt, held a state election on September 22, the same day as the federal vote. In both elections the Christian Democrats (CDU) emerged as the strongest party, but were forced to seek a coalition partner.
While Merkel quickly discarded the Greens as a partner and entered formal talks with the SPD, Hesse premier Volker Bouffier has kept negotiations running with both left-leaning parties, and has now opted for the Greens.
The decision is unlikely to affect the talks in Berlin, where Merkel's conservatives and the SPD are on track to form a government by Christmas. But it sends a signal to the SPD that the CDU has other coalition options, and could be seen as a test of CDU-Greens cooperation before the next federal election in 2017.
Merkel's decision to accelerate the exit from nuclear power in 2011, after the Fukushima disaster, removed the main obstacle to an alliance with the Greens at the national level.
But the SPD, the second-biggest party in Germany, were a reliable coalition partner for Merkel from 2005-2009 and would give her a huge majority in the Bundestag lower house.
In Hesse, Bouffier told the SPD he had decided to pursue formal talks with the Greens instead.
"Bouffier told me that he will recommend to CDU leaders this evening to enter coalition talks with the Greens," said the SPD's state leader Thorsten Schaefer-Guembel.
The CDU and Greens appear to have identified a compromise in a dispute over expansion at Frankfurt's international airport, he said. Shares in Fraport, which runs the airport, fell 2.6 percent on news of a possible conservative-Greens coalition.
The only precedent for a two-way CDU-Greens government at state level was in Hamburg. It collapsed after just 2-1/2 years in 2010. However, CDU progressives and moderate Greens say the parties have moved closer on a range of policies including Europe.
(Reporting by Holger Hansen; Writing by Stephen Brown; Editing by Noah Barkin)