Experimental feature

Listen to this article

00:00
00:00
Experimental feature
or

The lower house of the German parliament approved an extension of the Greek bailout by a wide margin on Friday but a substantial rebellion within the ranks of chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative bloc indicated deep unease over Berlin's eurozone rescue policy.

The vote on Friday followed a night of violence in the Greek capital after several hundred hardline leftists marched to parliament to demonstrate against the Syriza government’s new agreement with international lenders. In the biggest rebellion Ms Merkel has faced over a bailout vote, 29 members of her Christian Democratic Union and sister party the Christian Social Union voted no and three abstained.

While the four-month extension passed with a comfortable majority of 541 out of 586 lawmakers in the Bundestag who voted, the scale of the dissent indicated the difficulties that lie ahead when Athens negotiates a widely expected new bailout.

Invoking the second world war, Wolfgang Schäuble, finance minister, told the Bundestag ahead of the vote: “In the 70 years since this catastrophe, the German catastrophe, we Germans should do everything we can to ensure that we hold Europe together.”

However, he did not mask his irritation at the Greek government, telling German legislators that election campaign rhetoric in Greece had not made their job any easier.

The debate saw a divide between Ms Merkel's coalition partners the Social Democrats, who warned of the costs of a Greek exit from the euro, and the CDU, where even loyalists acknowledged that Grexit was possible.

Ralph Brinkhaus, vice-chair of the CDU's parliamentary party, said: "The eurozone is a big project, and we all want it to succeed. It would be very bad if someone fell out of this [eurozone] project. But it is even more dangerous when someone destroys it from within."

Athens is counting on the extension to unlock €7.2bn in bailout payments by June. Following the vote, the European Financial Stability Facility's board of directors extended the bailout to June 30.

In the Greek capital on Thursday night several hundred hardline leftists marched to parliament to demonstrate against the Syriza government’s new agreement with international lenders.

“No to the new deal to extend the memorandum [bailout], the loan agreement and the supervision of the bailout,” said a banner carried by protesters.

The protest, organised by the far-left Antarsyia party, turned violent when groups of demonstrators began throwing petrol bombs and attacked stores in a luxury shopping street.

A burning car in central Athens' Exarchia district

It was the first anti-government protest since Syriza took office after a snap general election last month. Police cordoned off the area but did not intervene, in line with the new government’s policy of “soft” policing of demonstrations.

Germany’s biggest selling newspaper Bild urged German legislators to vote no, with a front page on Friday declaring: “Bild readers say No — no more billions for Greece.”

The tabloid has called on readers to take pictures of themselves holding up the word “Nein!”, and published a selection of the images on Friday.

Ms Merkel has come under mounting pressure from anti-euro party Alternative für Deutschland, which has lured away disaffected CDU voters to win seats in four regional parliaments in the last year.

However, polling indicates the mood among the German public has shifted in favour of Greece. A poll conducted this month for broadcaster ARD showed German public opposition to Greece’s continued membership of the eurozone has declined from 65 per cent in 2012 to 41 per cent.

Pawel Swidlicki, an analyst at the Open Europe think-tank, said: "What was interesting was how trenchant the CDU and CSU MPs were in making it absolutely clear that the new Greek government has four months to prove itself. And if it can't, it can't rely on any more help."

The vote, combined with factors such as public opinion, will help ensure that Berlin maintains a tough line with the Greek government, Mr Swidlicki said.

The bailout extension passed with the support of the Social Democrats, the Greens and the main opposition party Die Linke. Overall, a total of 32 Bundestag legislators voted no, 13 abstained and 45 did not vote.

Die Linke, the German far left party, has traditionally voted against bailouts because of the impact on the public sector of accompanying austerity measures.

The party changed course on Friday and most of its legislators backed the extension out of solidarity with Syriza.

Gregor Gysi, die Linke’s parliamentary leader, told the Bundestag: “Now you’ll see that a leftwing government can achieve anything.”

Additional reporting by Kerin Hope in Athens

>
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
myFT

Follow the topics mentioned in this article

Follow the authors of this article