Angela Merkel wins German parliament’s backing for Greece bailout

German chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday won backing from the country’s parliament to open negotiations on a €86bn Greece rescue plan, despite an embarrassing revolt by her conservative supporters.

The vote passed by 439 to 119, with 40 abstentions out of 598 ballots cast in the 631-seat Bundestag. Sixty MPs from Ms Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian sister party, voted against the plan and five abstained.

German chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday won backing from the country’s parliament to open negotiations on a €86bn Greece rescue plan, despite an embarrassing revolt by her conservative supporters.

The vote passed by 439 to 119, with 40 abstentions out of 598 ballots cast in the 631-seat Bundestag. Sixty MPs from Ms Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian sister party, voted against the plan and five abstained.

With Germany’s green light on top of the approval of all other eurozone governments, the bloc’s rescue fund formally launched negotiations with Athens on a new €86bn rescue. The Greek parliament passed a series of economic reform measures on Thursday as a precondition of the talks.

Valdis Dombrovskis, the European Commission vice-president in charge of eurozone issues, said he hoped an agreement could be reached by mid-August.

The scale of the rebellion in the Bundestag, together with warnings from hawkish finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble about the difficulties ahead, signalled that the package could face further challenges in Germany before Athens and its creditors reach a final agreement.

The opposition far-left Linke party accused the government of “destroying Europe” by forcing Athens to accept a tough programme.

But Ms Merkel’s real concerns will be the conservative sceptics who argue the bailout will waste German taxpayers’ money.

Even conservatives who voted with the government remain sceptical. Hans-Peter Friedrich, a former minister from Bavaria’s CSU, later said that he still did not rule out Grexit — a Greek exit from the eurozone.

“Many colleagues are very sceptical especially about Greece’s readiness to really implement reform,” he told RTL television.

“The Greeks will receive help in return for reforms. And if that does not work out there will be a Grexit . . . Grexit is not off the table.”

Ms Merkel urged MPs to support the deal agreed at last weekend’s marathon eurogroup summit, for the sake of Greece, the EU and Germany. “We are doing this for the people of Greece. But we are also doing this for the people of Germany,” the chancellor said ahead of the vote.

She rejected the alternatives of either accommodating Athens by further stretching EU rules or a sudden Grexit which could bring “chaos and violence” to Greece. She argued that a sudden Grexit should not to be confused with the voluntary temporary Grexit that Mr Schäuble has advocated.

The chancellor defended Mr Schäuble — to prolonged applause from her own backbenchers — but said there was no wider support for the temporary Grexit plan. “A timeout cannot be decided against Greece but together with it and the other 18 euro members,” she said.

Ms Merkel warned that, after five years of failing to meet its reform promises, Greece would this time be watched carefully by its creditors to ensure that the “unprecedented European solidarity” was matched by implementation of reform and not just declarations of intent.

However, in a statesmanlike speech, she spent less time lecturing Athens than promoting the need for EU solidarity — and for a common front in the face of other challenges including the Ukraine crisis, the refugee influx and the Islamist terrorist threat.

Mr Schäuble made no mention of the temporary Grexit proposal in his own speech, and asked MPs to back the rescue plan. However, he made clear that he still had doubts about whether it would succeed in stabilising Greece, describing the proposed third bailout proposal as “the last attempt to achieve this extremely difficult task”.

He also repeated his warning about the Greek debt mountain, saying the talks would have to find a way to bring Greece’s debt to a “realistic” level, with or without a haircut.

The vote authorises Ms Merkel’s government to join the formal negotiations over the package which will now start. But the Bundestag must vote again on any final package, giving plenty of time for Germany’s sceptics to keep protesting and for Mr Schäuble to keep alive the temporary Grexit option, if he wants to.

Despite the international pressure, coming from the US and France to be generous to Greece, MPs know German public opinion is hostile. In a poll this week by the Forsa agency 55 per cent of those surveyed backed the chancellor’s hardline and a further 31 per cent said Berlin should have been tougher and forced a Grexit.

The vote will come as a relief for Ms Merkel at the end of a torrid week in which she faced international criticism over her tough stance.

Separately, she ran into a PR debacle in an encounter with a 13-year-old Palestinian refugee from Lebanon during a school visit to the northern city of Rostock on Wednesday. After the girl said her future was uncertain because her family did not know whether it could stay in Germany, the chancellor could not easily explain why she faced deportation.

In a televised encounter that has gone viral, Ms Merkel rubs the teenager’s shoulder after telling her she was one of “thousands and thousands” of refugees that Germany could not help.

Even though Germany accepts more refugees than any other EU country, social media critics accused Ms Merkel of lacking sympathy.