Greek debt crisis: German MPs back bailout extension

Damien McGuinness reports from Berlin: ''Both Athens and Berlin have compromised''

Greek bailout

The German parliament has voted to extend financial aid to Greece by another four months.

The extension - approved by creditors last week in exchange for a series of Greek government reforms - needs to be ratified by eurozone members.

Some MPs had expressed doubts about the deal and there is substantial public scepticism but the vote passed easily.

It comes after police and protesters clashed during anti-government demonstrations in Athens on Thursday.

They were the first such disturbances since Greece's leftist Syriza was sworn in as the main government party exactly a month ago, promising to renegotiate the country's debt and end austerity.

Dozens of activists hurled petrol bombs and stones at police and set cars alight after a march involving hundreds of protesters. Some carried banners calling for Greece to leave the EU and for its debt to be cancelled.

 

 

Police and protesters clashed in Athens on Thursday night

'Keep Europe together'

Eurozone finance ministers on Tuesday approved a set of reform proposals submitted by Greece.

As the dominant economic power in the EU, Germany's approval was regarded as crucial - and on Friday the overwhelming majority of MPs granted it. A total of 542 voted for the proposals, with 32 voting against and 13 abstentions.

However, the vote was preceded by a ferocious debate, with catcalling and jeering, reports the BBC's Berlin correspondent Damien McGuinness - reflecting the unpopularity of the bailout extension among two-thirds of German voters.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble spoke in favour of the deal, telling parliament: "We Germans should do everything possible to keep Europe together as much as we can."

"We're not talking about new billions for Greece... rather it's about providing or granting extra time to successfully end this programme," he insisted.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble urged German legislators to approve Greece's bailout extension despite widespread scepticism inside Germany

There has been a chorus of scepticism about the deal inside Germany - with Thursday's edition of the largest tabloid, Bild, emblazoned with the word "No!", adding "No more billions for the greedy Greeks!''

Hawkish elements within Mrs Merkel's CDU (Christian Democratic Union) and its Bavarian sister party, the CSU (Christian Social Union), have portrayed the extension deal as leniency for Greece.

Mr Schaeuble himself has expressed doubt about the Greek government's commitment to reform.

Debt mountain

But German legislators felt they had no choice but to pass the vote, as a eurozone breakup could prove even more expensive than the bailouts and potentially undermine the credibility of the euro, our correspondent says.

In Greece, the proposed bailout extension has also triggered dissent within the governing party.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has defended it, but some on the hard left have accused Syriza of going back on pre-election pledges.

Even if the bailout extension goes through Greece still faces the formidable task of trying to service its debt obligations.

It will need to flesh out its reform programme in detail by April and prove that reforms are bedding in before receiving a final disbursement of 7.2bn euros.

But in the meantime Greece has to repay several billion euros in maturing debts, including about 2bn euros to the IMF in March, and 6.7bn in European Central Bank bonds maturing in July and August.

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