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Germany's politicians at odds over vote on Greece bailout extension

Despite the eurozone's accepting a four-month extension to Greece's bailout program, the plan still must be passed by key European parliaments. Greece's toughest critic, Germany, could prove the hardest challenge.

The next phase of Greece getting its bailout extension plan formally approved scarcely involves Greece. Instead, several European parliaments now have to debate and vote on whether or not it can go ahead.

In exchange for the proposed extension, Greece has promised to introduce measures such as fighting corruption and reducing bureaucratic red tape, in a list of reforms outlined on Tuesday.

Germany's Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble has already contacted the speaker of the lower house of parliament, requesting a vote be held this week to decide on the proposed extension.

Usually known for his hardline stance, Schäuble is now working on convincing members of his own party to vote in favor of the plan. He will also attend a meeting with Bavarian conservatives from the Christian Social Union to pass along information from negotiations with Greece's Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis.

If Germany's lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, does not approve the measure, the program will end on Saturday. It's worried that this could lead to Greece pulling out of the Eurozone, which could have serious ramifications for other Eurozone members.

The budgetary spokesman for the CDU, Eckhardt Rehberg, said on Wednesday that he expected the package to pass with a "large majority" from his party and parliament in general. Asked whether his party would approve the move, the Social Democrats' Johannes Kars said "at the moment it looks that way." The grand coalition of Christian and Social Democrats holds a five-sixths majority in the Bundestag.

Concerns persist, though

But Schäuble told German public radio on Wednesday that "not a single euro will be paid" out until Greece meets the requirements of the previous program. He also said there was "a lot of doubt in Germany" about Greece's assurances that it would adhere to the new plan.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has also softened her stance somewhat, telling her faction on Tuesday that the Syriza-led Greek government has made some progress, though "the work is by no means complete."

Other German conservatives continue to argue against the extension. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reports that several have called on lawmakers to come down hard on Greece. A letter by members of Chancellor Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) committee claimed the current proposal didn't go far enough. "A simple extension of the aid program without effective terms would mean that we are knowingly throwing further good money after bad," it read.

In a separate report published in business daily Handelsblatt on Tuesday, conservative Bavarian MP David Bendels urged parliament to vote against the extension, saying "anything else would be grossly negligent and a betrayal of the German taxpayer."

Lenders' reception lukewarm

The new plan has also been received less than enthusiastically by the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which together with the European Commission make up the so-called "troika."

Following a conference call on Tuesday Eurozone ministers said the three institutions considered the proposal merely "a starting point" for further discussions.

Greece has until the end of April to prove that its reforms are working, before it will receive a further payment of 7.2 billion euros ($8.2 billion).

It has already been bailed out twice, in 2010 and 2012, in loans packages worth some 240 billion euros ($270 billion) in total; the current extension would conclude these. The country also received a 100-billion-euro ($113 billion) writedown on their private-sector debt late in 2011.

Prime Minister Tsipras, who came to power pledging to end strict austerity measures imposed on Greece under the existing bailout plan, has already had to tone down promises such as raising the minimum wage and reinstating unemployed civil servants. Instead, he has agreed to consult with the country's creditors before making any drastic changes.

The German parliament will vote on the proposal on Friday, following a test vote on Thursday.

an/msh (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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