German parliament backs Merkel's fiscal pact

Budestag lower house approves permanent EU bailout fund in show of Berlin's commitment to single eurozone currency.

    German lawmakers have approved two euro-crisis fighting tools by a two-thirds majority, rallying to a call by Chancellor
    Angela Merkel to show the world Germany's commitment to the single currency.

    Hard on the heels of a "breakthrough" EU summit, Merkel dashed back from Brussels on Friday to address the German parliament before MPs in the Bundestag lower house voted in favour of new budget rules and a permanent bailout fund.

    "What we decide today is an important step to make clear to the world that we stand by the euro, we want it as our stable currency," Merkel said earlier in her second speech to parliament on the euro crisis in three days.

    As they have done since the start of the eurozone debt crisis, the two main opposition parties backed Merkel on the EU fiscal pact, handing her the two-thirds majority she needed to pass the law.

    Merkel also defended decisions by EU leaders which included agreeing the EU's new European Stability Mechanism (ESM) fund could recapitalise banks directly and that the bailout funds can buy up bonds of ailing nations.

    She said any use of the bailout funds would keep to agreed guidelines, calling it a "good decision, a sensible decision" and stressed any changes or new functions would have to come before the parliament first.

    European 'future'

    German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said Merkel had "defended and imposed exactly what had been German government policy for years", namely firm conditions in exchange for aid.

    "Today, with the adoption of the fiscal and ESM treaty in the Bundestag and Bundesrat, across party lines, Germany is sending an important sign," Merkel said before the votes.

    "It is a sign of unity and determination, domestically and abroad, a sign of overcoming the European debt crisis, sustainably, and a sign that, for us, Europe means our future," she added.

    Later on Friday, the Bundesrat representing Germany's 16 regional states will also vote on the two texts, where the fiscal pact must similarly be  approved with a two-thirds majority.

    Weeks of horse-trading with the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) and ecologist Greens meant she could be quietly confident of parliament's approval, but the EU deal struck earlier rattled some lawmakers.

    SPD budgetary affairs expert Carsten Schneider, earlier on the micro-blogging site Twitter, accused the government of a "U-turn" with regard to the ESM decisions in Brussels.

    Delay expected

    To obtain enough votes, Merkel had to give ground on SPD and Green party minor demands for growth measures, and secured support of regional leaders with measures to offset the impact on regional finances of new demands for budgetary rigour, among other things.

    SPD chief Sigmar Gabriel said during the parliamentary debate ahead of the votes: "We are agreeing because Europe is more important to us than the party political profile."

    The fiscal pact, of which Merkel was the main architect, has been signed by 25 of the EU's 27 members and enshrines stricter budgetary rules aiming to prevent excessive public deficits that touched off the eurozone turmoil.

    The $623bn ESM is due to take over from the European Financial Stability Facility and cannot be established without
    Germany's backing as it needs approval by countries making up 90 per cent of its capital to take effect.

    The fund was originally to begin operations on July 1 but is now widely expected to be pushed back by at least a week.

    Germany is likely to face a further delay, however, after President Joachim Gauck agreed to a request by the constitutional court to refrain from signing off on the two laws immediately after their parliamentary approval.

    The court said last week that it needed up to three weeks to examine a likely legal challenge to the fiscal pact and bailout mechanism threatened by the far-left Linke party.

    Germany's top court has a history of strengthening the role of the parliament on European issues

    SOURCE: Agencies


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