International

Germany backs Greek deal despite worries

Pensioners wait to enter a National Bank branch to receive their pensions, which were deposited in the bank, on Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

BERLIN: German lawmakers signaled that they would approve an extension of Greece’s bailout with an overwhelming majority in parliament Friday although many would do so reluctantly amid fears Athens will not deliver on its reform promises.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition has a big enough majority to easily win the vote in the Bundestag lower house to extend the rescue by four months. But many lawmakers, including Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, have expressed concern in recent days about whether Athens is to be trusted.

In Thursday’s test ballot 22 of 311 lawmakers in Merkel’s conservative bloc, comprising her Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian sister party, the CSU, opposed the extension while five MPs abstained.

Their Social Democrat (SPD) coalition partners, with 193 seats, voted unanimously for the extension in their test vote.

With the opposition Greens also expected to back it and the radical Left party divided, the vote should easily prevail in the 631-seat chamber, pointing to the biggest majority in the German parliament for any eurozone rescue package so far.

Still, many lawmakers are holding their noses.

“We’re doing this not because of loutish comments [from Greece] but because it’s in the interests of Germany and Europe,” Volker Kauder, conservative parliamentary leader, said.

Combative Schaeuble, who has taken a tough stance with Greece, has lobbied lawmakers to back the extension, arguing Athens is not getting softer conditions, just more time.

But in a sign of his frustration, he told conservatives before Thursday’s test ballot that the extension could be ditched if Athens failed to stick to its promises and that remarks by the Greek finance minister had strained European solidarity.

Greece’s Yanis Varoufakis, who agreed the bailout extension with the eurozone in return for a package of reform pledges, has in the last few days revived talk of a debt haircut and cast doubt on its ability to repay its international debts.

Schaeuble knows the government has a tough sell to convince voters about the package. A poll published this week showed that only 21 percent of Germans back an extension.

Top-selling daily Bild splashed a large headline “NEIN! No more billions for the greedy Greeks!”

“The real scandal is not that the Greeks make promises we want to hear. But that Schaeuble & Co. still believe them,” the newspaper wrote in an editorial.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 27, 2015, on page 5.

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