Weak German “Yes” to Aid Package

On Friday, the German Bundestag will decide in an emergency vote on the austerity measures for Greece by the IMF and the European Union.

The largest economy in the eurozone, Germany will contribute with more than 22 billion euros to the aid package.

The coalition of Chancellor Merkel’s CDU, the Bavarian sister party CSU and the Free Democrats of Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle will succeed in passing the law with their majority in Parliament. It looks like the Green Party will support the aid package, while the Left Party – as expected – will vote against it.

Chancellor Merkel will be able to travel to Brussels to the emergency meeting of European leaders later on Friday with a “Yes” from Berlin. The most important country in the eurozone will give green light for the kick off of the austerity measures, hoping that the decision will eventually calm down the markets and set Greece back on track.

But the German “Yes” in Brussels will be a weak one: The Social Democrats under their leader Sigmar Gabriel and the head of the SPD parliamentary group, the former foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, have decided to deny the government support to the austerity package. They recommended to their MPs on late Thursday evening to abstain from the vote.

Having been a coalition partner to the CDU in the previous government, the Social Democrats suffered a severe blow in the September 2009 general elections and took the role of the major opposition party with a significantly reduced number of seats in the Bundestag. However, the SPD still represents major parts of the country’s electorate.

Over the last days, the opposition parties as well as commentators criticized the government for what they considered a late reaction of Chancellor Merkel to the crisis. But the reason for the SPD’s abstention reportedly is about something else. The Social Democrats wanted the government to adopt stronger measures to regulate the financial markets, in particular a tax for financial transactions.

While over the last days a consensus on the austerity measures has been regarded as a kind of national and European duty by a majority of Berlin’s political circles and indeed the only way to save the eurozone from further damage, the SPD’s decision puts that consensus into question.

Even though they are not part of the government, the fact that the Social Democrats will abstain from the vote will have a major impact on the clout of Angela Merkel’s message in Brussels. Will this also weaken the position of the EU in this difficult moment? It might. But even more so, it is a reminder of what will happen in Germany if Greece does not remain an exception and other eurozone countries follow.

Berlin’s weak “Yes” to the aid package is yet another blow to Germany’s Europapolitik. On the eve of the 60th anniversary of the Schuman Declaration (see berlinbrief, 6 May 2010), the future of the single currency is being jeopardized for domestic reasons: There will be important elections in the federal state of North-Rhine Westphalia on Sunday. And the majority of Germans is against the aid package.

Follow the vote in the Bundestag here (starting at 9 am GMT+2).

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