Schaeuble fights sceptics for German approval of Greek bailout

Berlin (AFP) - Germany's powerful finance minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble, told MPs it would be "irresponsible" not to approve a third bailout for Greece in a crucial vote Wednesday amid mounting dissent against further aid for the debt-mired country.

Addressing the Bundestag lower house, Schaeuble said that Athens had earned a fresh opportunity to salvage its economy with the help of its eurozone partners, including its de facto paymaster Germany.

"There is no guarantee that all of this will work and there can always be doubts," he said as debate began on the latest 86 billion euro ($95 billion) rescue plan.

"But considering the fact that the Greek parliament already approved most of the (stipulated reform) measures, it would be irresponsible not to seize this chance for a new beginning in Greece," he said to applause from the chamber as his chancellor, Angela Merkel, looked on.

Underlining the controversy throughout the eurozone surrounding the latest lifeline for Athens, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte was to face a grilling in his own parliament, and a possible no-confidence vote, over his cabinet's support for the bailout.

The Bundestag's blessing is required for German participation in the latest Greek bailout plan. Passage was seen as assured given the 504 seats Merkel's left-right "grand coalition" holds in the 631-seat Bundestag lower house.

But grumbling has grown ever louder within her Christian Union bloc over help extended to the Greek government of leftist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

In a rare editorial by the editor-in-chief of the influential Bild newspaper, Kai Diekmann urged deputies to vote against the package.

"Today's vote will not save Greece, it will not save the euro and it will not save Europe," he said.

"On the contrary, it damages the European ideal because it divides, rather than unites. Worst still, the old ghosts of pre-EU Europe have resurfaced -– the worst outcome of the EU's Greek policy," referring to the divisive debates of recent months.

Sixty of the 311 members in Merkel's parliamentary group voted last month against authorising the start of negotiations with Greece on a new rescue package -- defiance that was considered a blow to the chancellor.

Sources in Berlin say the number of those defectors could rise this time, the second vote this summer in which MPs have been called back from holidays to cast their ballots.

- 'Stabbing chancellor in back' -

The Christian Democrats' general secretary, Peter Tauber, warned this week that a vote against the bailout was "tantamount to stabbing the chancellor in the back" two years before the party fervently hopes to see her stand for a fourth term.

Underlining the stakes involved, the party's chief whip Volker Kauder this month vowed to impose sanctions on any dissidents in his ranks -- a threat that may have backfired by antagonising backbenchers.

Schaeuble, a fiscal hawk who drove a hard bargain in countless rounds of negotiations with Greece on new financial lifelines, insisted deputies could vote for the package with a clear conscience.

Addressing one key area of concern, the involvement of the International Monetary Fund in the third bailout, Schaeuble told MPs there was "not the slightest doubt" it would agree by October to participate, calling it "indispensable".

Conservatives see the IMF as a guarantor of stability and rigour.

"The IMF is the only organisation which has decades of experience with helping failing countries," Commerzbank said in a research note this week.

"And it can only use this expertise if it has the opportunity to exercise pressure" by helping to foot the bill.

But while the IMF has insisted on significant debt relief for Greece, Germany has ruled out a writedown and argued instead for longer maturities or lower interest rates on the principle.

Meanwhile in The Netherlands, lawmakers in the 150-seat Lower House were also recalled from summer recess over the bailout.

The liberal Dutch premier has come under fire for breaking a 2012 election promise in which he said no more money would go to Athens after two previous bailouts.

Far-right eurosceptic parliamentarian Geert Wilders, who has bitterly opposed financial aid to Greece, was to ask for a vote of no-confidence against Rutte's cabinet.