German lawmakers approved an extension of Greece’s loan program after Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition staved off dissent from bailout-weary members in its own ranks.
With Merkel’s government holding a majority of almost four- fifths and opposition lawmakers adding their votes, 542 voted to approve the measure, 32 voted against and 13 abstained.
“It’s not about new billions for Greece, it’s not about any change in the program,” Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said in the lower house of parliament, or Bundestag, in Berlin. “It’s about offering more time to allow this program to be completed successfully.”
Schaeuble sought to win over lawmakers exasperated with the anti-austerity government in Athens led by Alexis Tsipras after Greece won a four-month reprieve this week from euro-area finance ministers. The additional time gives Tsipras, who has pledged to undo five years of austerity he says has wrecked the Greek economy, until the end of June to cobble together a plan for the bloc’s most indebted country.
Klaus-Peter Willsch, a Christian Democratic lawmaker who repeatedly opposed bailout votes during the European debt crisis, said he rejected the Greek extension.
“The problems in Greece have to do with the fact that governments have mismanaged for decades in an irresponsible way and took on debt without asking what happens tomorrow,” Willsch told the Bundestag. “Greece has to try its fortune outside the euro; the euro area has to be able to breath.”
Schaeuble exhorted lawmakers in his coalition, who have insisted that Greece must hew to the recipe of budget cutting and labor-market reforms, to show European solidarity. He made a reference to the “catastrophe” of World War II fomented by Germany 70 years ago.
“We Germans more than all others will only have a positive future if European unity is upheld, only if we stand together,” Schaeuble said. “We Germans need to do everything to hold Europe together and to lead together.”
Other rebels within Merkel’s caucus 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.
The Bild tabloid, Germany’s most-read daily newspaper, splashed the headline “Bild readers say no!” across its front page Friday, accompanied by photos of readers holding up the word “Nein” — German for “no.”
Schaeuble has led a group of euro finance ministers at loggerheads with Tsipras and Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis in recent weeks over Greece’s economic plight. The month-old government in Athens vowed to tear up its savings program, while creditor nations warned that the flow of funds would stop if Greece didn’t meet the program requirements.
A four-week long standoff ended this week, with European leaders lauding Tsipras’s government for putting forward a workable package of measures, including state asset sales and stepped up tax collection. For his part, Tsipras declared an end to austerity.
“The discussion before and after the vote in Greece doesn’t make the decision easier,” Schaeuble said in Berlin.