Ostracised German euro rebel defends 'no' vote

BERLIN, Sept 28 Wed Sep 28, 2011 1:16pm EDT

BERLIN, Sept 28 (Reuters) - A leading rebel in Angela Merkel's coalition said it was still unclear whether the chancellor would get a majority backing in parliament on the euro zone rescue fund on Thursday but vowed he would not cave in to heavy pressure.

Frank Schaeffler, a member of parliament for the Free Democrats (FDP), said that based on previous test votes there could be about 15 "no" votes or abstentions in Merkel's conservatives and up to six dissenters in his FDP.

"It's going to be close," Schaeffler, 42, told the Foreign Press Association (VAP). "They're going to be working on it (pressuring dissidents) right up until tomorrow morning. It might work out, but it might not. I just don't know."

With 330 seats in the 620-seat Bundestag, Merkel can afford no more than 19 rebels if she is to deliver the required 311-seat majority without relying on the Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens, who have guaranteed their support for the bill giving new powers to the European Financial Stability Fund (EFSF).

Merkel will be severely weakened if she fails to win a majority within her own coalition. The opposition and German media have questioned how long the alliance could survive a defeat on the most important vote in her reign.

The next federal election is not due until 2013.

The soft-spoken Schaeffler, an insurance salesman before entering parliament in 2005, admitted he was being ostracised by the coalition for his opposition to the euro zone rescue fund and feeling the effects of the increasing arm-twisting.

"It's not easy when you're an MP and opposing the majority of your coalition but want stick to your guns," Schaeffler said. He was perspiring heavily but it was impossible to tell if it was due to warm Berlin weather or the pressure on him.

"Ostracising the critics isn't the way to resolve the problem," he said. "It would have been wiser to try to integrate the critics instead of ostracising them. But that wasn't done. And now we're in the situation we're in."

Schaeffler, dressed in a smart dark suit, defended his point of view and said he was not worried about his future.

"In parliament there are mechanisms used to show they're withdrawing their love for me," he said. "But I'm not unloved in the party at all. It's less important what happens with me or the FDP. This isn't the time to worry about my future."

Deputies in the FDP -- and in Merkel's conservatives -- have no interest in a snap election because they are far behind the opposition SPD and Greens in opinion polls. The FDP fell to an all-time low of 2 percent in a poll published on Thursday -- down from the 14.6 percent it won in 2009.

Schaeffler said Greece -- and the euro zone as a whole -- would benefit if Greece quit the euro and brought back the drachma. He said Greece was a proud nation and should not have to tolerate so much outside interference.

"The longer we wait, the worse the mess will be," he said.

Schaeffler bristled at the suggestion he was a euro sceptic and criticised Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble for failing to defend German interests at European Union meetings.

"I'm not a euro-sceptic. I'm a euro-realist. The others are euro-romantics. Schaeuble has a romanticised view of Europe. Germany was taken to the cleaners at the negotiating table."

Schaeffler said he has not tried to rally other like-minded deputies to his cause. But he struggled to answer the question whether he would be smiling if Merkel fails to win a majority of coalition MPs on Thursday.

"I'm not trying to organise any sort of majority (against the EFSF)," he said. "I want to be able to sleep well at night. But I don't want to be the only one left voting no. I'm of two minds (on whether he wants to thwart an own majority). I can't say yes or no. What I want is a change of course." (Reporting By Erik Kirschbaum; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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