Germany’s parliament has backed a third Greek bailout following a heated debate in the Bundestag, despite widespread misgivings over whether the country will manage to implement reforms in return for money.
Following three hours of lively debate, 453 voted in favour of the €86bn rescue package, while 113 voted against it. 18 MPs abstained.
A total of 63 MPs of Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU conservative alliance rebelled against the government despite warnings that there would be consequences if they failed to toe the party line. Three conservative MPs were among those who abstained. The result is a blow to Merkel, amounting to three more than the number who rebelled during a similar vote in July. It is far fewer, however, than the 120 that it was suggested might have voted against the government.
A total of 47 politicians were absent from the chamber altogether. A good handful of them were said by colleagues to have deliberately chosen to stay away, rather than be forced to vote no and risk being accused of disloyalty towards Merkel. Of those, 17 were from the CDU/CSU, and 16 from the SPD.
The Bundestag’s approval now paves the way for €13bn to be paid to Athens on Thursday to cover outstanding bills. A further €10bn will be put aside at the European stability mechanism, to be used to strengthen capital in Greek banks.
Bundestag observers said, notwithstanding that the vote was held during the summer holiday and with some MPs either ill or unable to return from far-flung places, never had so few voted in such an important vote. It was a sign of how controversial the topic has been, they added.
Addressing the parliament on behalf of the government, finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble, who until a few weeks ago was calling for a temporary exit of Greece from the euro, appealed to parliamentarians to vote in favour of the deal, the third in five years.
“Of course, after the experience of the last years and months there is no guarantee that everything will work and one is allowed to have one’s doubts,” Schaäuble said. “But due to the fact that the Greek parliament has already passed a large part of the measures, it would be irresponsible not to use the opportunity for a new start in Greece.”
His speech was greeted with strong applause from the house.
Gregor Gysi of the far-left Die Linke, 12 of whose MPs did not turn up to vote, accused the government of profiting from the crisis. He was particularly critical of the privatisation of 14 regional airports in Greece for what he called a “dumping price”, to the German airport operator Fraport, and claimed that Germany was due to earn €100m from Greece and “should be helping to rebuild it, not forcing it to save”.
Thomas Oppermann of the Social Democrats, junior coalition partners in the government, said the third bailout was of a “much higher quality” to the first two, as it was conditional on reforms being implemented, including the abolition of tax exemptions for ship owners and farmers. “A poor state cannot afford to have tax subsidies for rich ship owners,” he said.
Klaus-Peter Willsch, a CDU MP from Hesse who was one of the 63 “rebels” and has repeatedly called for Greece to leave the eurozone, said: “If you’ve taken a head-first running jump at a wall twice, then you should probably look to see if there’s door somewhere. And that door is called Grexit.”
Merkel did not participate in the debate, apparently to avoid the vote becoming a decision on her leadership, even though the Greek crisis and her chancellorship are now arguably inextricably intertwined. Instead she sat in the chamber, nodding, laughing and talking to fellow MPs before casting her vote and swiftly departing with her entire cabinet for a business trip to Brazil.
This article was written by Kate Connolly in Berlin, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 19th August 2015 13.50 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010