Germany's MPs rage at Merkel over bailout plan

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The Independent Online

Chancellor Angela Merkel was heckled in the German parliament yesterday as she urged MPs to back the country's €22.4bn bailout for Greece, insisting that the "future of Europe" rested on the success of the rescue package.

Ms Merkel's cabinet gave the go-ahead for a German contribution to the €110bn joint European Union and International Monetary Fund bailout on Monday, but parliament still has to vote on the package tomorrow before the measure goes before an EU summit in Brussels.

In an impassioned speech that was frequently drowned out by shouts and protests from angry MPs, Ms Merkel did her utmost to defend the bailout: "It is about no more and no less than the future of Europe and Germany's future within Europe," she insisted. "Europe is looking to Germany today, without us there will be no decision."

While opinion polls have shown that a majority of Germans strongly disapprove of the rescue package for Greece, Ms Merkel herself had been criticised at home and in Europe for responding too late to the country's mounting debt crisis. Some had argued that her delaying tactics had helped to exacerbate the problem.

But the Chancellor defended her decision to delay, saying she had to make German aid for Greece conditional on a tough savings programme. "A good European is not always somebody who helps quickly, but rather somebody who helps ensure that the eurozone is not damaged," she told parliament.

Germany's opposition Social Democrats refused to guarantee their support for the rescue package yesterday and left the issue open. "The costs of this crisis cannot again be one-sidedly dumped on the German taxpayer," insisted Frank Walter Steinmeier, the Social Democrat parliamentary leader. Addressing Ms Merkel directly, he added: "You let things drift and only now are you calling the fire brigade when everything is ablaze."

MPs in Germany's liberal Free Democrat party, which is in coalition government with Ms Merkel's conservatives, also said they had reservations about the package. German opponents of the euro have said they plan to take the issue to the country's constitutional court.

The German government has been making strenuous efforts to sell the rescue package to a disillusioned public. Ms Merkel has enlisted the support of German banks to offset the costs to taxpayers and called for an overhaul of the EU's Growth and Stability Pact to ensure there is no repeat of the Greek crisis.

Ms Merkel faces a key election in North Rhine Westphalia, Germany's most populous state, this Sunday. If her party loses control of the state, her coalition will forfeit its majority in Germany's upper house of parliament and find it difficult to govern.