German parliamentarians have voted overwhelmingly to approve a second international bailout for Greece. Chancellor Angela Merkel had urged them to approve the measure in Germany's interest.
Members of Germany's lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, have voted to approve Berlin's participation in the latest international bailout for Greece.
Parliamentarians passed the measure by a vote of 496 for and 90 against. There were five abstentions.
Although lawmakers overwhelmingly approved the bailout, Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right coalition failed to secure the politically important absolute or "chancellor" majority of 311 votes. This majority is necessary to elect a chancellor and is seen as a test of coalition stability. Merkel did manage to win a governing majority of 304 votes for the bailout measure, despite 20 "no" votes from within her coalition's ranks.
"There was a governing majority, and the governing majority is what counts," said Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, a high-ranking member of the Free Democrats, Merkel's coalition partner.
But Frank-Walter Steinmeier, chairman of the opposition center-left Social Democrats' parliamentary group, told the Berlin-based newspaper Der Tagesspiegel on Monday that the failure of Merkel to secure the so-called chancellor majority signaled the fragmentation of her coalition.
"The collapse of the coalition is in full swing," Steinmeier said, adding that "Merkel's authority is badly damaged."
Strong pitch from the chancellor
Prior to the vote, she opened the debate with a speech in which she explained why parliamentarians should approve the bailout package, worth 130 billion euros ($174 billion).
The chancellor stressed that approving the package wasn't only about bailing out Greece, but also about the entire eurozone. She described the package as part of a greater effort to create a stability union to safeguard the common currency. She also warned of what she said would be incalculable risks if Greece were to pull out of the eurozone.
"Nobody can foresee what the consequences of a disorderly default would have for all of us, including the people of Germany," the chancellor said.
Merkel highlighted the efforts that Greece had already made and new measures that it has agreed to make to bring its public debt under control. She also noted the fact that the private sector had agreed to get involved, with lenders to write down more than 100 billion euros of bad Greek debt.
She stressed that this latest bailout wasn't just about forcing Greece to implement austerity measures. She said it was more about making it more competitive and capable of creating economic growth in the long term.
"There is now no alternative to correcting the mistakes of the past," the chancellor said, apparently referring to the budgetary practices of past Greek governments
"Nobody can provide a 100-percent guarantee of success," the chancellor said.
Despite pledging its support for the bailout, the opposition Social Democrats criticized how Chancellor Merkel's government has dealt with Europe's sovereign debt crisis. Former finance minister Peer Steinbrück accused Merkel's government of dragging its feet.
"Nearly two years after the first Greek aid package in May 2010, we are back to square one regarding Greece, regarding the contagion to the eurozone and Germany," Steinbrück said.
pfd,slk/acb (Reuters, AFP)