Merkel faces stepped-up dissent on Greek bailout among lawmakers

Chancellor Angela Merkel faces increased dissent as her governing coalition prepares to extend Greece’s bailout, backing her policy of keeping the euro area intact.

While senior lawmakers say almost all of Merkel’s Christian Democratic bloc will back the four-month reprieve for Greece in a lower-house vote on Friday, 22 of the 311 caucus members opposed the measure in a straw poll Thursday, nine more than voted against passage of Greece’s second bailout in 2012.

Goading them on was Alternative for Germany, the anti-euro party that’s won seats in four German state parliaments since August and is seeking to boost its national standing on the back of dissatisfaction with euro-area bailouts. Party co-leader Bernd Lucke urged Christian Democratic lawmakers to shun party discipline and vote their conscience on Friday.

“It’s a problem” for the Christian Democrats, Gero Neugebauer, a political analyst at Berlin’s Free University, said by phone. Lawmakers who disagree with Merkel’s bailout policies are looking at regional elections down the road, and the aid “is against their convictions as well,” he said.

Opponents include Wolfgang Bosbach, a six-term Christian Democratic lawmaker who chairs the interior affairs committee who says he’s flirting with ending his parliamentary career after consistently opposing bailouts. Hans Michelbach of the Bavaria-based Christian Social Union says he’ll refuse to back Merkel for the first time because it’s illusory to think the rescue will work. Both have been lawmakers since 1994. Peter Ramsauer, a CSU lawmaker and former transportation minister under Merkel, also said he’ll vote against the extension.

‘Nein’ Selfies

“Lawmakers are called upon to make up their own minds” whether aid to Greece should be extended, Lucke said in an interview. One reason is that a third bailout for Greece “is unavoidable as long as the country stays in the euro and the rescue policies don’t change,” he said.

Even so, Merkel regularly ranks as Germany’s most popular politician in polls after she contributed the biggest share to euro-area bailouts since 2010. Euro-area governments on Tuesday gave Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras time to sell his policy program to creditors, extending the financial lifeline of the bloc’s most indebted country through June 30.

Twenty-two Christian Democratic lawmakers voted against continued aid in the straw poll and five abstained, Sebastian Hille, a CSU spokesman, said by phone. The Social Democrats, Merkel’s junior coalition partner, support aid to Greece in return for reform commitments. Merkel’s government controls 504 of the 631 lower-house seats.

Bild, Germany’s most-read daily newspaper, denounced the government’s support for Greece on Thursday and splashed the word “Nein” — German for “no” — across its editorial page, urging readers to take photos of themselves holding it.

Germany and Finland, core critics of Tsipras’s effort to break free from fiscal austerity, are crucial to the proposed extension since it requires a vote by lawmakers. While failure to win parliamentary approval for the program would risk halting the flow of aid to Greece, even lawmakers who voted against past bailouts acknowledge they don’t have the support to block the extension. The Dutch government said Monday it won’t seek parliamentary approval.