Merkel faces difficult Greek vote in parliament

BERLIN Sun Feb 26, 2012 6:45pm EST

German Chancellor Angela Merkel looks around during a guided walking tour of the northern German city of Stralsund February 24, 2012.  REUTERS/Morris Mac Matzen

German Chancellor Angela Merkel looks around during a guided walking tour of the northern German city of Stralsund February 24, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Morris Mac Matzen

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BERLIN (Reuters) - The German parliament will almost certainly vote to endorse a new Greek bailout package on Monday, but Chancellor Angela Merkel may be forced to rely on opposition support to overcome a determined band of rebels in her coalition.

At least a dozen members of parliament in Merkel's center-right coalition said they would vote against the 130 billion-euro ($175 billion) rescue package. If the number of rebels rises to at least 20, the measure will pass only with opposition support.

That would be a humiliating defeat for Merkel, which analysts and opposition leaders said would raise doubts over whether her coalition can survive.

Merkel's allies are confident they have enough votes for a majority. The opposition Social Democrats and Greens will vote for it.

Merkel is due to lead the debate in parliament starting at 3 p.m. (1400 GMT) Monday, with the vote scheduled for later in the day.

Merkel needs 311 votes to reach a majority in the 620-member parliament. Her government commands 330 seats.

However, in a September 27 vote, 15 deputies in her coalition broke ranks, leaving the governing coalition with the narrow majority of 315 seats on that occasion.

GERMANS LOSING PATIENCE

Signs are growing that the German public is losing patience with Greece. One member of Merkel's cabinet, Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, openly called on Greece to leave the euro zone, saying its chances of recovery would be greater outside.

An opinion poll published in Bild am Sonntag newspaper on Sunday found 62 percent of Germans are against the 130 billion-euro rescue package while 33 percent are in favor. In a similar poll in September, 53 percent were opposed and 43 percent in favor.

"Quite clearly the mood in Germany is turning against further rescues for Greece," Klaus-Peter Willsch, a leading dissident on Greek aid in Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), said in an interview with Reuters Sunday.

"But that's not surprising. This is all deja vu for the public. We've been promised all kinds of things that aren't fulfilled and then a few months later there's the need for another rescue package. The public's faith is fading fast."

Willsch, who has been ostracised in his own party for his resistance, said he was unsure how many coalition deputies would vote no Monday, but hoped for more than the 15 who rebelled in September. He expected the package to pass, if only with support from the Social Democrats and the Greens.

Germans, who are making the largest financial contribution to the euro zone bailout to Athens, are growing impatient with what Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble described as a "bottomless pit" in Greece.

At the same time, there is a growing awareness in Germany, Europe's leading economy, that its own prosperity is at risk as the debt crisis sucks in more countries and stifles demand within the currency bloc for German exports.

German criticism of Greece has reopened wounds dating from World War Two. Protesters in Athens burned a German flag earlier this month while Greek newspapers have portrayed Merkel and Schaeuble in Nazi uniform.

Despite riding high in polls, Merkel has hit a rough patch recently - about 18 months before the next election - that has raised doubts about her grip on power.

On February 17, Christian Wulff resigned as German president in a scandal over political favours, dealing a blow to Merkel who had hand-picked him for the ceremonial post.

Days later she was outfoxed by her junior coalition partners and forced by the small Free Democrats (FDP) to accept a candidate for the job, Joachim Gauck, whom she had vowed would never take the office.

Merkel is opposed to Greece leaving the euro zone, but her Bavarian allies, the Christian Social Union (CSU), face a difficult state vote in 2013 and have been raising the volume on calls for Greece to quit.

(Reporting By Erik Kirschbaum; Editing by Alessandra Rizzo)

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