Big majority for unpopular Greek rescue | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 27.02.2012
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Big majority for unpopular Greek rescue

The German parliament, the Bundestag, has agreed yet another package worth billions of euros to rescue Greece. Chancellor Angela Merkel got what she wanted, but she said she understood those who are unhappy.

Angela Merkel seemed weary as she made her way to the Bundestag speaker's podium - rings under the eyes, the edges of her mouth even further down than usual. In her hands she held the government statement on the second Greek rescue package, worth some 130 billion euros ($97 billion).

She wanted to convince the Bundestag members that it's money well spent, even if people are already talking about a third rescue package.

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Merkel needs opposition to pass Greek bailout

"I don't want to paint a rose-tinted picture," she said. "But Greece has made progress." This "new program" will help ensure "new growth." She added that the banks should be taking a haircut on their Greek debts of 53.3 percent and the International Monetary Fund is going to "substantially" participate in the rescue. But the speech failed to make clear precisely how much money would be involved.

Uncomfortable majority


Friedrich is the first cabinet minister to call Greek rescue into question

Three hours later, after the debate, the chancellor had the majority she wanted. As many as 496 parliamentarians are in favor, 90 against, and five abstain.

It's a large but not a very comforting majority. Twenty members of her own coalition voted against her - enough to mean that she had to rely on the opposition to win the vote. Over the last few days she has had to confront increasing skepticism in her own ranks about whether these ever new rescue packages can save Greece at all. On Sunday, her own interior minister, Hans-Peter Friedrich, said he thought Greece would be better off without the euro.

In her speech, Merkel said she understood those doubts, but she couldn't give way to them. With a touch of pathos, she opened her hands - almost as if to beg - and said imploringly, "The chances outweigh the risks!"

The authorities will keep a close eye on how the billions are spent, but Merkel's critics want to see an end to the cash injections. "We won't get anywhere like this," said Klaus Peter Willsch of her Christian Democrats.

But for Merkel, simply abandoning Greece to its fate is too dangerous: "As Chancellor I have to take risks. But I can't do anything dangerous: my office forbids me from doing so."

The opposition supports - but attacks

Peer Steinbrueck during the debate

Steinbrück supports the package but not the chancellor

Merkel's big majority only came thanks to the opposition Greens and Social Democrats. Their members supported the rescue package, but their speakers made it clear that they weren't supporting the chancellor. She was therefore forced to listen to a lot of criticism.

"Too little, too late, too directionless," is how former Social Democrat Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück described the government's measures. He said he was appalled at what is being asked of the Greeks in exchange for their rescue. The country has to commit itself to drastic cuts and a strict financial control, but there are no plans for helping the people.

"There's no concrete plan for investment," he said. "You won't get the country back on its feet using thumbscrews." All the same, he said his side would vote for the package, "out of a sense of political responsibility for Europe."

That's the line taken by Renate Künast of the Greens too. "We don't want to let anyone down," she said, but she said she would rather see a "European Marshall Plan" to help rebuild Greece, referring to the US-backed plan that helped Germany recover after World War II.

Controversial comparison

In the event, only the Left party voted against the package wholesale. Their parliamentary leader Gregor Gysi caused a stir when he compared the conditions for Greece with the demands for reparations against Germany after the First World War.

"You are imposing Versailles in Greece, when what we need is Marshall," he insisted. He argues that the "devastating policy of cuts" to minimum wages and other income will pull the country even deeper into catastrophe.

Author: Heiner Kiesel / mll
Editor: Ben Knight

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