German lawmakers voted overwhelmingly in favor of a new Greek rescue package Friday after Chancellor Angela Merkel warned of “chaos” if the Greek economy went to the dogs.
The chancellor and her finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, won the Bundestag vote by 439 in favor versus 119 against, but the tally also showed clear evidence that resistance is swelling among Merkel’s conservatives to continued largesse for Greece.
The “Ja” from the Bundestag means the eurozone countries approving include Germany, Finland and the Netherlands — some of most critical of Greece’s spendthrift ways — as well as Austria, Latvia and Greece itself.
In her opening speech — after receiving a bouquet from her party’s parliamentary leader for her 61st birthday — Merkel portrayed the third, cash-for-reforms deal for Greece as an issue of strategic importance for Europe.
Putting it in the context of broader threats to the continent, including Islamic State and the migrant crisis, she said: “We’re not just deciding about Greece, this is a decision for a strong Europe and a strong eurozone … We’re doing this for the people in Greece, but we’re doing it just as much for the people in Germany.”
The core of votes against the measures came from the opposition Left, but the number of “Nein” votes from conservative rebels, at 60, was about twice as high as the the last Greek bailout vote, explaining why Merkel warned this really is Greece’s last chance.
Klaus-Peter Willsch from Merkel’s Christian Democrats, who has rebelled on the previous bailout votes, said he got “a déjà vu feeling” debating more assistance for Greece, which he said had failed to fulfill its commitments so far and would do so again.
“However much water you put into a bottomless barrel, it will never fill up,” Willsch said.
Merkel added that a temporary exit from the eurozone, an idea suggested by her own finance minister, is not an option for Greece as long as Athens and other eurozone capitals oppose the idea.
Schäuble has publicly promoted giving Greece a temporary “timeout” from the currency union to get its economy and debt back in order, even after his proposal was dropped from the final agreement.
But the chancellor said the “timeout” plan, which appeared in the draft agreement for the marathon summit that ended Monday, but was finally excised as a gesture to Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, had proved “not doable” in the face of adamant opposition from Tsipras and other leaders.
Merkel did, however, pay homage to Schäuble’s tireless negotiating efforts, however, in an apparent an effort to smooth over relations after they appeared to disagree publicly in recent days over the best way forward for Greece.
“I want to give the man who negotiated days and days and nights in the Eurogroup, Wolfgang Schäuble, a heartfelt thanks,” she said, prompting longer applause from conservative benches than Merkel herself got at the end of her speech.
Schäuble, who took the brunt of attacks from opposition lawmakers for his aggressive approach to negotiations — including the temporary “Grexit” idea, which was has been criticized as humiliating for Greece — did not smile in response.
Gregor Gysi, head of the opposition Left party, singled out Schäuble’s role in the negotiations with Greece, saying he was implicated in “the destruction of the European idea.”
“We had a good international reputation and you’ve hurt it, Mr. Schäuble,” he added. “Our citizens are going to feel it when they go abroad, and that’s a shame.”
Schäuble used his chance to address the plenary to draw the line between “cool heads” and “hot hearts” in decisions over Greece’s future.
“This is a last chance to solve this exceptionally difficult problem,” Schäuble said. “It’s not about a help package for Greece. It’s about making it possible at all that Greece can stay a member of the currency union.” He said debt sustainability and financial stability were prerequisites.
“To reduce the debt … we have to find a way that seems realistic,” Schäuble said.