Merkel gets Germany to sign the 'fattest cheque in history'

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The Independent Online

Chancellor Angela Merkel won approval for Germany's controversial €22.4bn (£19.3bn) bailout for Greece yesterday despite huge public opposition to the rescue and a savaging by her political opponents in a furious parliamentary debate.

The bailout, dubbed the "fattest cheque in history" by the German press, was passed by 390 votes to 72 but only after 139 abstentions from opposition Social Democrat MPs who insisted that taxpayers were contributing too much to the package. However, an embattled Ms Merkel defended the rescue, saying that the credibility and future of both the European Union and the euro depended on it. "If we don't work together in such times of crisis, the markets will think we are unable to act," the Chancellor insisted.

Public opposition to the bailout could undermine the chances of Ms Merkel's conservatives winning a key regional election in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia tomorrow. Defeat for her party in what is Germany's most populous state would deprive her coalition of its majority in the country's upper house and could force an early general election.

Opinion polls have suggested that up to 80 per cent of Germans are opposed to the Greek bailout. Since the crisis began, Greece has been widely depicted in the German media as a corrupt nation which cheated its way into the euro zone.

Sigmar Gabriel, the Social Democrat leader, accused Ms Merkel of having "managed the crisis miserably". Other members of his party claimed that because of her delay in offering immediate financial support to Greece, she had ignited a financial "bush fire" that had spread across Europe.

The Social Democrats abstained from the voting after Ms Merkel's coalition of conservatives and liberals rejected demands for greater controls on the markets. The deputy leader of Germany's Left Party described market speculators as "Taliban in pinstriped suits" during yesterday's debate.

Yesterday Franz Jaeger, a leading Swiss economist, argued in the conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper that Greece had to be ejected from the euro zone in order to save the currency's future.

The paper noted that only weeks ago Ms Merkel had argued in similar vein. "There is nothing of the Iron Lady left now," it remarked.

Five German Eurosceptics, including renowned economist Joachim Starbatty, said they were taking the government to the constitutional court over the package, claiming that it was in breach of EU and German laws.

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