Tuesday 20 February 2018

Germany backs Greece bailout deal

Chancellor Angela Merkel
Chancellor Angela Merkel

Germany's parliament has given its overwhelming approval to the four-month extension of Greece's financial bailout, despite unease over the new government in Athens.

Lawmakers voted 542-32 to back the bailout extension. There were 13 abstentions.

Finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said ahead of the vote that "this is not about new billions for Greece, not about changing this programme" and stressed that the goal is to complete Greece's existing bailout successfully.

Germany, a key creditor nation, has advocated unpopular spending cuts and insisted that aid must come with strings attached. Comments by Greek officials casting doubt on privatisation deals and raising the possibility of further debt relief have irked some in Germany.

Mr Schaeuble said that "we Germans should do everything to keep Europe together and bring it together, as far as we can".

He told lawmakers that the eurozone is on the right track. "We must stick to this course and we must say to our colleagues in Greece that, with all respect for voters' decision in Greece, Greece alone cannot decide in Europe what the right path is."

Left-wing Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras ousted traditionally dominant political parties in January 25 elections, promising to scrap bailout agreements and supervision, and demand a massive write down of Greece's 240 billion-euro (£175 billion) bailout debt.

However, his government has backed off key demands and secured a bailout extension by pledging a series of policy measures including adherence to certain reforms.

A minority of lawmakers in Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative bloc has consistently voted against bailouts for European strugglers. Still, Ms Merkel's current coalition with the centre-left Social Democrats has four-fifths of the parliamentary seats and, with opposition support as well, approval for the bailout extension always looked assured.

"If you're not travelling in the right direction, there's no point in always speeding up - you just get further from your destination," said Klaus-Peter Willsch, a lawmaker from Merkel's Christian Democrats and a serial rebel in bailout votes.

He pointed to the possibility of a further bailout package for Greece this summer, which Mr Schaeuble did not mention, and said that "it will never end".

Andreas Scheuer, a senior conservative who backed extending the current bailout, said that "everyone has a feeling that isn't just positive".

"We will have to rely on the Greek government delivering now," he said, adding that "this is one of the last chances we are giving Greece".

In Greece, it was still unclear whether the government would take the extension deal to Parliament or seek to have it ratified by legislative decree. Mr Tsipras has faced dissent within his Syriza party over the agreement, which some have criticised as being too big a concession.

The conservative opposition New Democracy party insisted on a vote.

"It is not possible for other European parliaments to be voting on the extension of aid to Greece and the Greek parliament to be denied that right because Syriza is afraid of its lawmakers," New Democracy spokesman Kostas Karagounis said, adding that his party would support the deal.

Press Association

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