Merkel MPs in Germany back help for Greece

A CLEAR majority of MPs from German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s centre-right bloc has backed an extension of financial help for Greece.

In a test ballot before the full vote on Friday, 311 MPs from the CDU/CSU voted in favour with 22 voting against.

The centre-left Social Democrats, junior partners in Mrs Merkel’s coalition, voted unanimously in favour.

As the dominant economic power in the EU, Germany’s approval for the bailout extension is crucial.

European leaders want to extend help for Greece until the end of June, subject to parliamentary approval.

After the ballot, CDU parliamentary leader Volker Kauder spoke of an “overwhelming majority” in favour of extending the 240bn euro (£176bn; $272bn) bailout for Greece which is currently due to run out on 28 February.

Eurozone finance ministers had suggested prolonging the deal by four months after approving Greece’s reform proposals on Tuesday, with parliamentary votes in several countries needed for final approval.

Mrs Merkel’s grand coalition of centre-right and centre-left has a commanding majority in the Bundestag and the test ballot indicates that German backing for an extra four months is in no real doubt.

German parliamentarians are expected to vote in favour of the extension of a bailout for Greece on Friday. And Chancellor Merkel has broad cross-party support:

Opposition left-wing politicians, thrilled at seeing Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s Syriza party cheekily standing up to Germany’s political establishment, claim this marks the beginning of the end for austerity, while centrist Merkel allies hope that Berlin has finally locked Athens into pushing through economic reforms.

But this doesn’t mean everyone is happy. This latest deal is seen as the least bad option: Germany is nervous that a Eurozone breakup could cost even more than more bailouts and could undermine the whole euro project.

The rebellion of 22 MPs in Mrs Merkel’s governing coalition shows how much trust has been undermined during the increasingly acrimonious debate over the last few weeks.

Syriza’s negotiating tactics have been widely interpreted here as macho, dishonest and inconsistent – cardinal sins in a political culture of consensus – and although Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble is seen in the rest of Europe as the continent’s bulldog of austerity, he is passionately pro-European. So in many ways he is in fact quite moderate compared to some of his more conservative colleagues, who would jettison Greece tomorrow given the chance.

Although in a minority, opponents to more help for Greece are vocal and their concerns are widely reflected in German media.

“We say ‘No!’ to more billions for Greece” reads the headline in Germany’s largest tabloid, Bild. It shows readers who followed its call to print out the headline, take a selfie with it and send it in.

And the daily Die Welt says: “What’s the bet the Greeks will be back in four months?”

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, who has backed an extension and called for the parliamentary vote on Friday, also remains sceptical of the new Greek government’s reform efforts.

“The question is whether one can believe the Greek government’s assurances or not,” he reiterated in an interview with German radio on Thursday.

“There is a lot of doubt in Germany, that has to be understood. Only when we see that they have fulfilled [their promises] will any money be paid.”

Eurosceptic elements within Mrs Merkel’s CDU (Christian Democratic Union) and its Bavarian sister party, the CSU (Christian Social Union), have portrayed the extension deal as leniency for Greece.

Kurt Lauk, the head of the CDU’s right-wing Business Council, wrote to lawmakers urging them not to back the deal.

But government MPs hold 504 of the Bundestag’s 631 seats and some opposition parties, such as the pro-European Greens, are also expected to vote in favour of the four-month extension.

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