German MPs set to unblock Greek aid in parliament vote

26th February 2015, Comments 0 comments

Despite scepticism, German lawmakers were expected Friday to approve Greece's hard-won bailout extension in a parliament vote, removing the last hurdle for keeping crucial international aid flowing to Athens.

Berlin's unwaveringly hard line on the need for debt-wracked Greece to stick to economic reforms in return for aid is shared in other capitals from Helsinki to previous bailout recipients Madrid and Lisbon.

But tough talk from Europe's effective paymaster has sparked bitter exchanges with Athens since elections last month ushered in the hard-left government of Prime Minister Alexis Tspiras on a wave of anger at years of austerity cuts.

Even as Germany's deeply pro-European Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble urged his fellow conservative deputies to back the bailout reprieve Thursday, he voiced "disbelief" at renewed comments from his Athens counterpart on its teetering debt.

Pressure from Greece's debt of 320 billion euros ($365 billion) -- equivalent to 175 percent of its annual economic output -- is so severe that Tspiras wants to renegotiate repayment obligations during the four-month bailout extension clinched Tuesday after gruelling negotiations with creditors.

Germany is Greece's only eurozone partner to hold a parliamentary vote on granting Athens the breathing space, aimed at averting a potentially calamitous deadline on Saturday that could have sparked a Greek euro exit.

It is expected to sail through the Bundestag lower house of parliament, where Chancellor Angela Merkel's left-right coalition commands a crushing majority.

In a dry-run ballot Thursday, 27 MPs among Merkel's conservatives -- who have 311 seats -- either voted "no" or abstained, while junior partners the Social Democrats unanimously supported the move.

The opposition Greens and the far-left Linke are also expected to support the move which Merkel has described as being about "the euro as a whole" as well as Greece.

- 'Loud Yes to the euro' -

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, a frank economics professor, again raised temperatures in Germany by calling Wednesday for a discussion to "begin immediately" on renegotiating the mountain of debt.

After Athens already secured a 100-billion-euro write-down of its debt to private creditors and two bailouts of 240 billion euros, Schaeuble expressed "disbelief" Thursday at the very suggestion.

"I can't see anything in what Varoufakis is doing that makes life easier for us," the veteran minister was quoted as saying at a parliamentary group meeting Thursday.

He had stressed a day earlier that Greece would not receive "a single euro" until it meets the pledges of its existing bailout programme while his spokesman dismissed media speculation of a looming third rescue plan.

Merkel, who has championed painful economic reforms in EU states in return for aid throughout the eurozone turbulence, faces political pressure from bailout-weary voters at home.

"No more billions for the greedy Greeks!" demanded mass daily Bild on Thursday, printing a huge "Nein!" (No), which it urged readers to hold up for selfie pictures it planned to publish.

A contrary "Yes! Yes! Yes!" was the response in commentary on news site Spiegel Online.

"We need ... a loud 'Yes' to the euro, to Europe and to the legacy of Helmut Kohl," it said, referring to Germany's ex-chancellor, a driving force behind European enlargement and integration after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

A poll published this week suggested that just 21 percent of Germans are in favour of the German parliament giving its green light to the reprieve for Greece.

The International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank, which together with the eurozone states hold most of Greece's debts, have also expressed misgivings.

Merkel has said the extension is just a "starting point" and that Berlin is under "no illusions" about the challenges ahead.

Alexander Kritikos, research director at the German DIW economic institute, said Greeks had an "old habit" of focusing their anger just on Schaeuble, but others such as Finland, the Netherlands and Baltic states also took a firm line.

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© 2015 AFP

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