BERLIN Nov 27 German lawmakers are likely to
approve the release of Greek aid immediately despite suspicions
that talks of a debt write-down have just been delayed until
after Germany's 2013 elections.
Chancellor Angela Merkel's centre-right coalition and the
opposition Social Democrats (SPD) said on Tuesday that the Greek
deal agreed overnight would be put to the vote in the Bundestag
lower house on Thursday or Friday.
With both sides voicing support, approval is guaranteed but
the question will be whether the chancellor can rely on her
coalition or needs the votes of the SPD and Greens.
They want to help Greece but will exploit any chance to
embarrass Merkel ahead of September 2013's elections, when she
will seek a third term in office.
SPD parliamentary leader Frank-Walter Steinmeier said his
party would not do anything "that could lead to Greece becoming
unable to make its payments in the short term or could force it
to leave the euro zone".
But he accused German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble of
pulling the wool over the eyes of the public, which might accept
granting already-agreed aid tranches but would not easily
support a second write-down of Greek public debt.
"Mr Schaeuble brags to his own bloc that a debt haircut has
been avoided but I tell you it has just been postponed to after
the Bundestag elections," he told German TV, adding that euro
zone ministers had made "cryptic hints" to this effect.
Greece's international lenders finally reached a deal on a
package of measures to reduce Greek debt by 40 billion euros,
cutting it to 124 percent of gross domestic product by 2020.
They also committed to taking further steps to lower
Greece's debt to "significantly below 110 percent" in 2022, the
most explicit recognition so far that some write-off of loans
may be necessary from 2016, the point when Greece is forecast to
reach a primary budget surplus.
The SPD is not against writing off Greek debt but Steinmeier
said Schaeuble should be honest about it. He was also worried
that the International Monetary Fund appeared cautious in its
support of the Greek debt deal.
Greece will get up to 43.7 billion euros in stages as it
fulfils the conditions set by Europe and by the IMF - whose
share will only be paid out once a Greek debt buy-back has been
carried out. Steinmeier said this added uncertainty.
Merkel's conservatives and their Free Democrat (FDP) junior
partners include a small band who routinely rebel against euro
zone bailouts in the Bundestag. Nowhere near numerous enough to
defeat Merkel, they can however cause her embarrassment.
"The chancellor does not technically need her own majority
but it is an important signal," said a senior lawmaker from her
Christian Democrats (CDU). "However, the number of rebels has
not grown in the past six months."
FDP whip Rainer Bruederle backed the Greek package, saying:
"There is a danger with all these measures that they set a
precedent But Greece is an extreme special case."
German indignation at continued demands for Greek aid has
abated since Merkel's visit to Athens in October, when she was
impressed by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras' determination to
tackle his country's structural spending problems.
But the conservative media is always quick to tap into the
underlying vein of resentment among German taxpayers at having
to bail out euro zone countries less frugal than themselves.
"Greeks Get 44 Million Euros," was the headline of the
top-selling Bild daily. It asked online readers what they
thought of more Greek aid: "NO and once again NO!" responded a
reader identifying himself as Frank Mergner.
"Athens can breathe again," said Spiegel magazine, adding
that euro zone ministers' ambitious Greek debt-reduction targets
"will clearly lead to a debt haircut in the medium term - even
if such a step was rejected on Monday".
Gerda Hasselfeldt, parliamentary chief of the CDU's Bavarian
sister party, the CSU, said German budget law meant such a step
could be ruled out in future too. The CSU has recently softened
its tone on Greek aid but would probably block a debt haircut.