German lawmakers to back Greek extension despite misgivings

German lawmakers signalled that they will approve an extension of Greece’s bailout with an overwhelming majority in parliament on Friday although many will do so reluctantly amid fears Athens will not deliver on its reform promises.

Angela Merkel’s coalition has a big enough majority to easily win the vote in the Bundestag lower house to extend the rescue by four months. But many lawmakers, including Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, have expressed concern in recent days about whether Athens is to be trusted.

In Thursday’s test ballot 22 of 311 lawmakers in chancellor Merkel’s conservative bloc, comprising her Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian sister party, the CSU, opposed the extension and five abstained.

Their Social Democrat (SPD) coalition partners, with 193 seats, voted unanimously for the extension in their test vote.

With the opposition Greens also expected to back it and the radical Left party divided, the vote should easily prevail in the 631-seat chamber, pointing to the biggest majority in the German parliament for any euro zone rescue package so far.

Still, many lawmakers are holding their noses.

“We’re doing this not because of loutish comments (from Greece) but because it’s in the interests of Germany and Europe,” said Volker Kauder, conservative parliamentary leader.

Combative Schaeuble, who has taken a tough stance with Greece, has lobbied lawmakers to back the extension, arguing Athens is not getting softer conditions, just more time.

But in a sign of his frustration, he told conservatives before Thursday’s test ballot that the extension could be ditched if Athens failed to stick to its promises and remarks by the Greek finance minister had strained European solidarity.

Greece’s Yanis Varoufakis, who agreed the bailout extension with the euro zone in return for a package of reform pledges by his new leftist-led government, has in the last few days revived talk of a debt haircut and cast doubt on its ability to repay its international debts.

Schaeuble knows the government has a tough sell to convince voters about the package. A poll published this week showed that only 21 percent of Germans back an extension for Greece.

Top-selling Bild daily splashed a large headline “NEIN! No more billions for the greedy Greeks!” and asked readers to hold it up, take a picture of it and send it in to the paper.

“The real scandal is not that the Greeks make promises we want to hear. But that Schaeuble & Co. still believe them,” wrote the paper in an editorial.