Angry exchanges divided the German parliament on Wednesday after Angela Merkel, the chancellor, issued a solemn appeal for support for a €22.4bn loan to Athens.
“What is at stake is no more and no less than the future of Europe, and with it the future of Germany in Europe,” she said, in a government declaration to a crowded Bundestag at the start of a three-day emergency debate on the loan, intended to support Greece’s drastic three-year austerity programme.
“Europe is looking to Germany today,” she said. “Without us, or against us, no decision can be taken.”
Yet she immediately faced the charge, from Frank-Walter Steinmeier, parliamentary leader of the Social Democratic party and her former vice-chancellor, that her own delay and indecision had made the rescue plan more difficult and expensive.
“You and your government have swayed like a reed in the wind, and belatedly declared it was strategy,” he said.
Berlin’s contribution to the Greek rescue package is controversial in Germany, where public opinion is overwhelmingly hostile and the government faces a critical state election in North Rhine-Westphalia on Sunday. Both government and opposition accused each other of playing party politics with a decision that they agreed was of “huge significance” for the country, the euro and the future of the European Union.
Support for Mrs Merkel – who faces a crucial state election in North Rhine-Westphalia on Sunday – has dropped 6 percentage points from a week ago to 48 per cent, according to a Forsa poll as voters criticised her handling of the Greece crisis.
“It is the greatest test for European integration since the signing of the Treaty of Rome,” Mr Steinmeier said.
Ms Merkel challenged the opposition to support the government proposal for a loan guarantee after she spelt out the “naked facts” of the €110bn ($140bn, £95bn) joint eurozone and International Monetary Fund rescue package. The programme was a final resort not just for Athens, she said, but to ensure the stability of the euro for all its 16 member states.
The Bundestag also received a statement from Axel Weber, president of the German Bundesbank, who warned of “the grave contagion threats for other member states in the monetary union”, and declared that “all things considered, Germany’s contribution to the aid package for Greece is justifiable”.
Yet although Mr Steinmeier agreed that the rescue package must be approved, with Germany’s loan to back it, his party has yet to decide whether to vote for the government proposal on Friday. Ms Merkel is guaranteed a majority from the ranks of her coalition, but wants Bundestag endorsement to overcome public hostility.
Yet the German participation still faces a further potential blockage, with a complaint to the constitutional court in Karlsruhe planned by five economics and law professors. In a press statement on Wednesday, they confirmed that they would seek an injunction to stop the loan on Friday, after it has been approved in the parliament.