Leftists, hawks clash - then unite - in Bundestag debate on Greece bailout | News | DW | 17.07.2015
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Leftists, hawks clash - then unite - in Bundestag debate on Greece bailout

No political punches were pulled in German parliament as leftists attacked the government over Merkel's Greece policy. But as the vote came, the socialists climbed into bed with the ultra-conservative wing of the CDU.

For such a fiery debate, there was, at least for now, not much at stake. In between exchanging political barbs - not all of which were on-topic - several Bundestag members endeavored to remind the house that they were still only debating whether or not to give the government permission to continue negotiating with Greece. That did not mean, some warned, that they would vote in favor of a third bailout plan if one should be agreed to.

When the dust had settled, Merkel won by 439 to 119 - the no's divided among 53 members from the socialist Left party, some 60 from the ultra-conservative wing of her own Christian Democratic Union, and six from the Social Democrats and the Greens.

The chancellor already knew she was facing a rebellion within the CDU/CSU. The parliamentary faction had spent five hours discussing the motion on Thursday, before deciding finally, in the words of Bundestage member Gunther Krichbaum to TV station Phoenix, that "the important thing is to keep Europe together."

Deutschland Bundestag Sondersitzung Griechenland

Merkel: 'The euro is more than a common currency'

Europe's principles

That was the tenor of most of the arguments in favor of the motion. Merkel herself began the debate by invoking sweeping principles to bind Europe together.

"Europe has been though days that can barely be topped in terms of drama recently," the chancellor said, using her customary passive voice. "But the euro is much more than a common currency, it stands for the idea for Europe."

She then praised Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble's "tireless" efforts during recent negotiations with the eurozone leaders.

The CDU faction leader, Volker Kauder, struck a similar note.

"The 100 percent correct path does not exist," he said, acknowledging the rebel sentiment among his troops. "But one thing is clear, today it's not about giving Greece a chance, but keeping Europe together. This is a clear position in our CDU."

Then he threw a few not-quite-veiled warnings Athens' way: "We need a Europe that sticks to what it agrees," he said. "We need a Europe under the rule of law. We demand negotiations where we check that the conditions being met are also imposed."

It fell to parliamentarian Klaus-Peter Willsch to adopt the CDU rebels' position. "No matter how much you put in a bottomless barrel, it will never fill up," he told the chamber.

Socialists come out swinging

Left party members had very different reasons for voting against the motion, and they condemned Merkel and Schäuble's handling of the Greek debate in typically rambunctious style. An absolutely incendiary deputy leader Sahra Wagenknecht might well have coined the sound-bite of the day, when she dubbed Schäuble "the cutback Taliban."

Left party leader Gregor Gysi, on the other hand, told the finance minister: "Mr. Schäuble, I'm sorry, but you're in the middle of destroying the European idea."

Sahra Wagenknecht im Phoenix-Interview

Sahra Wagenknecht was in fiery form

Gysi then went on to demand that Schäuble make a few admissions.

"Germany needs the euro more than Greece does, and you keep that quiet, Mr. Schäuble, even though you know it very well," Gysi said. "Germany has not paid a single euro to Greece in the crisis. I want you, Mr. Schäuble, to say that in interviews on TV, on the radio, and the paper... Germany would only have to pay if Greece went bankrupt, ... and now you're working on making Greek bankrupt!"

But Gysi was forced to make an admission of his own: "If I had sat in the Greek parliament as a member, I would have voted yes, despite serious reservations," he said. "To prevent further misery for the Greek people. We remain in solidarity with the Greek government."

That left a flank open for the Social Democrats, who have also had to take much criticism for supporting Schäuble's hardline position. Their parliamentary leader, Thomas Oppermann, duly obliged: "You want to vote yes and no," he mocked, before thanking Merkel and praising Schäuble for guiding Germany through the crisis.

The finance minister, considered by most of Europe as the biggest hawk in the German government, did his best to convince the Bundestag that he had Greece's best interests at heart. "We all agree Greece needs help," he said. Then he also reminded his colleagues that a debt haircut was against eurozone rules, and pleaded with parliamentarians to grant his mandate to negotiate a new bailout program: "I am convinced that this solution will work."

But few people share his optimism. In the middle of the debate, German news channel N-TV flashed up an instant online poll on the question: "Do you think the aid program will be a success?" Ninety-two percent of viewers had clicked "no."

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