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Merkel averts major revolt as MPs approve Greek bailout


Angela Merkel.  PHOTO: Wikipedia

Angela Merkel. PHOTO: Wikipedia

The German parliament voted by an overwhelming majority Wednesday to back a third bailout for Greece, with Chancellor Angela Merkel spared a major rebellion of deputies opposing the aid.

Interrupting their holidays for the second time this summer to cast ballots on a Greek rescue, lawmakers in the Bundestag lower house approved the 86 billion euro ($95 billion) rescue by 453 votes to 113. Eighteen abstained.

While passage was virtually guaranteed given the dominance of Merkel’s left-right “grand coalition”, the key question was whether the chancellor would face damaging dissent within her own camp.

In the end, 63 conservative rebels cast ‘No’ ballots and three abstained, marking only a slight increase from a vote last month approving the start of negotiations on the package.

Then, 60 of the chancellor’s MPs voted ‘No’ and five abstained. The mass-market Bild newspaper had predicted up to 120 deputies could jump ship at Wednesday’s vote.

Germany’s powerful finance minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble, had opened the debate telling MPs it would be “irresponsible” not to approve a third bailout for Greece.

He said Athens had earned a fresh opportunity to salvage its economy with the help of its eurozone partners, including its de facto paymaster Germany.

“There is no guarantee that all of this will work and there can always be doubts,” he said.

“But considering the fact that the Greek parliament already approved most of the (stipulated reform) measures, it would be irresponsible not to seize this chance for a new beginning in Greece,” he said to applause from the chamber as Merkel looked on.

Underlining the controversy throughout the eurozone surrounding the latest lifeline for Athens, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte was to face a grilling in his own parliament, and a possible no-confidence vote, over his cabinet’s support for the bailout.

The Bundestag’s blessing was required for German participation in the latest Greek bailout plan.

But grumbling has grown ever louder within Merkel’s Christian Union bloc over help extended to the Greek government of leftist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

In a rare editorial by Bild’s editor-in-chief, Kai Diekmann had urged deputies to vote against the package.

“Today’s vote will not save Greece, it will not save the euro and it will not save Europe,” he wrote.

“On the contrary, it damages the European ideal because it divides, rather than unites. Worst still, the old ghosts of pre-EU Europe have resurfaced -– the worst outcome of the EU’s Greek policy,” he added, referring to the bitter debates of recent months.

– ‘Stabbing chancellor in back’ –

The Christian Democrats’ general secretary, Peter Tauber, warned this week that a vote against the bailout was “tantamount to stabbing the chancellor in the back” two years before the party fervently hopes to see her stand for a fourth term.

Schaeuble, a fiscal hawk who drove a hard bargain in countless rounds of bailout negotiations with Greece, insisted deputies could vote for the package with a clear conscience.

Addressing one key area of concern, the involvement of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in the third bailout, Schaeuble told MPs there was “not the slightest doubt” it would agree by October to participate, calling it “indispensable”.

Conservatives see the IMF as a guarantor of stability and rigour.

But while the IMF has insisted on significant debt relief for Greece, Germany has ruled out a writedown and argued instead for longer maturities or lower interest rates on the principle.

Meanwhile in the Netherlands, lawmakers in the 150-seat Lower House were also recalled from summer recess over the bailout.

The liberal Dutch premier has come under fire for breaking a 2012 election promise in which he said no more money would go to Athens after two previous bailouts.

Far-right eurosceptic parliamentarian Geert Wilders, who has bitterly opposed financial aid to Greece, was to seek a vote of no-confidence against Rutte’s cabinet.

However Austrian MPs late Tuesday approved the latest Greek bailout with all members of Chancellor Werner Faymann’s centrist “grand coalition” voting in favour.

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