Monday 20 November 2017

60 of Merkel's MPs rebel over Greek loan

Talks on €86bn bailout get go-ahead after unprecedented protest vote

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble talk during a meeting of the Bundestag yesterday
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble talk during a meeting of the Bundestag yesterday

Leo Cendrowicz in Brussels

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been given begrudging parliamentary backing to start talks on the €86bn Greek bailout but she faced an unprecedented rebellion from 60 MPs in her own party, who voted against the plan.

After three hours of often heated debate, the German Bundestag voted by 439 to 119 in favour of entering negotiations with Greece on the three-year bailout package.

Before the vote, Ms Merkel warned that if the EU voted against the bailout plan there would be "chaos and violence" in Greek cities. "Even if our differences are huge, we will do what we can to ensure that Greece can remain part of the eurozone," she added.

However, with 40 abstentions and 119 MPs voting against, parliamentary opposition to the bailout stood at record levels.

Particularly worrying for Ms Merkel was the scale of protest, accounting for almost one-fifth of her own conservative Christian Democratic Party (CDU). Leading CDU member Wolfgang Bosbach argued that more taxpayers' support for Greece is money down the drain.

Ms Merkel was yesterday obliged to rely on the votes of her Social Democrat coalition government. The vote gave approval for Germany only to begin talks with Athens over the bailout plan, and the Bundestag will have to vote a second time to confirm the negotiated deal.

An opinion poll published by Germany's ARD TV channel yesterday suggested that the public is also growing disenchanted with Ms Merkel's backing for Greece. The poll showed 49pc opposed negotiations on a further bailout package, while only 46pc approved.

Before yesterday's vote, sharp divisions had already opened up within Ms Merkel's cabinet, with Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble declaring that a temporary five-year Grexit might be the solution to Greece's problems.

Conservative MPs treated Mr Schaeuble to lengthy applause during the session. The Finance Minister criticised the Athens government for failing to implement necessary reforms and insisted that, in relative terms, Greece still had a bigger bureaucracy and higher pensions than Germany.

Reluctantly giving his backing to the bailout negotiations, he added: "This is a final attempt to fulfil this extremely difficult task." He added it "went against experience".

The vote came as other eurozone countries confirmed their backing, including Austria, while France's national assembly overwhelmingly backed the deal on Wednesday. The Lithuanian government approved the negotiations on Thursday, and the Latvian government followed yesterday. Estonia, Slovenia and Spain are expected to confirm shortly.

The parliament most likely to vote against is the Netherlands, where Prime Minister Mark Rutte's ruling coalition has a one-seat majority.

There was a surprise U-turn in Finland, where the government - dependent on the Eurosceptic Finns Party - had signalled last weekend it would not support a new bailout. But the parliament's Grand Committee gave its approval after Finns Party leader Timo Soini eventually agreed, even though he likened it to choosing between "plague and cholera".

The confirmations came as the eurozone members yesterday finalised a €7.16bn bridging loan to Greece to support the struggling economy until the bailout comes into effect.

Meanwhile, ECB President Mario Draghi has said that emergency funding to Greek banks was being raised by €900m over one week, meaning Greece banks can open their doors on Monday for the first time in three weeks. The €60 daily cash restriction will remain in place, but banks will be able to offer other services, such as money transfer from one account to another. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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