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Merkel Got Her Second Bailout But Faces Increasing Opposition

Angela Merkel got a lopsided vote in the Bundestag favoring a bailout but is facing growing dissent in her coalition and public opinion.
By Amiel Ungar
First Publish: 2/29/2012, 4:42 AM

Merkel and Schaeuble
Merkel and Schaeuble
Reuters

German Chancellor Angela Merkel got the Bundestag to agree to the new Greek bailout by a lopsided majority, but it was a bittersweet victory for the Chancellor. She could barely muster a majority from her own coalition as 304 of the 330 coalition members voted in favor, whereas the number of coalition rebels grew from 13 in September to 17 in Monday's votes. Symbolically, this meant that Merkel could not produce a majority from her own ranks in the 620 seat house.

What was worse were the ministerial rumblings. The Chancellor had to dress down her own Interior minister, Hans Peter-Friedrich, who told the Der Spiegel magazine that it would be best to give Greece "an offer she can't refuse" so that Athens would exit the common currency. According to Friedrich, he was actually thinking of Greece's benefit, as chances of recovery were better outside the currency bloc.

Merkel's own Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schauble, the number two man in the government also tripped up the Chancellor when in a Saturday interview to Al Jazeera, he said that a third bailout package to Greece could not be excluded, although it would be best to implement the second one rather than engage in hypotheticals.

The Finance Minister voiced a similar appraisal in a note to Bundestag members that was leaked to the press. In the note, Schauble warned "There is no guarantee that the route we have taken will lead to success and it is possibly not the last time that the Bundestag will have to consider financial assistance for Greece.".

This of course was grist to the mill for opponents of the bailout, in and outside the coalition, who considered the bailout throwing good money after bad.

In Monday's debate Chancellor Merkel acknowledged that it was not certain that the bailout would work; however, the risks attendant on a Greek default were worse:

"Nobody knows what would be the impact of rejecting the second Greek aid package on the other bailout countries, Portugal and Ireland, or on Spain and Italy, or the entire eurozone and the world," Merkel said.

"As chancellor I have to take certain risks, but I cannot be reckless – my oath of office forbids that."

Merkel has been accused by former Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who achieved German unification and helped launch Merkel's career, of failing to grasp the big picture of European unity. She incorporated the need to build for future generations in her address.

Her warning was echoed by Renate Kunast leader of Germany's Green party "If Greece leaves the eurozone, it will have a domino effect that will, among other things, end up costing us jobs here,"

The influential mass-circulation Bild newspaper of the Axel Springer chain, allied with the government, carried a banner headline reading: "Stop! It's payday again in German Parliament."  Bild claimed that on the basis of polling, nearly two-thirds of Germans are opposed to further bailouts. Bild also cited 10 economists who believed that further aid was futile and irresponsible.

Tuesday, the German Constitutional Court, generally far from activist, ruled that a parliamentary panel set up to approve emergency action in the euro zone bailout fund was "in large part" unconstitutional. Two Bundestag members had complained that the panel usurped the role of the legislative branch. Now emergency action will have to await either a vote in the Bundestag or at least its budget committee.  This, too, can be viewed as an example of stiffening public resistance to German contributions to the bailout effort.