Even Greece’s German Allies Despair at ‘No’ Vote in Referendum

Angela Merkel
Angela Merkel, Germany's chancellor, in Berlin. Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

German Social Democrats responded with undisguised despair to Greek voters’ decision to reject the terms attached to bailout aid, saying the “No” vote made efforts to provide help for Greece yet more difficult.

As the usual suspects in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s bloc rushed to urge Greece’s exit from the euro, her Social Democratic coalition partners who have been more willing to help Greece over the past five years had few ideas on how to do so now. Any new aid from Europe’s rescue fund has become “much more problematic,” said Ingrid Arndt-Brauer, an SPD lawmaker who chairs the finance committee in Germany’s lower house.

“The Greek people have been misled,” she said by phone. “Do they think this ‘No’ vote now obliges the rest of Europe to follow new orders from the Greek government? No way. The reality looks different. Right now, the only thing stopping Greece from tipping over the edge into chaos is the ECB.”

Merkel will travel to Paris on Monday to chart the way forward for Greece with French President Francois Hollande after Greek voters questioned Europe’s crisis-fighting strategy of the past five years. The other main pillar of that plan is the European Central Bank, which has been keeping Greek lenders afloat with emergency liquidity assistance.

As Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras hailed a “great victory,” Hans Michelbach, a lawmaker for the CSU Bavarian sister party to Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, who voted against extending Greece’s bailout in February, issued a statement calling on the ECB to immediately shut off its emergency credit for Greek banks.

‘Path of Abandonment’

While Social Democrats didn’t go as far, the party’s leader -- and German vice chancellor -- Sigmar Gabriel, said that Tsipras had led the Greek people down “a path of abandonment and desperation,” according to advance extracts of an interview to be published in Tagesspiegel newspaper Monday.

“By rejecting the rules of the game of the euro area, as expressed in the majority ‘No’ vote, negotiations on a multi-billion-euro program are difficult to imagine,” he said. Tsipras has “torn down the last bridges across which Europe and Greece could have moved toward a compromise.”

Growing numbers of Merkel’s bloc of 311 lower-house lawmakers have broken ranks and refused to support Greece as the Social Democrats remained solid backers. Twenty-nine CDU/CSU lawmakers rejected the Greek bailout extension in February and another 108 of those who approved it wrote to constituents saying they would reject any third rescue package. All the SPD’s 178 lawmakers voted in favor.

‘Dramatic Situation’

Social Democratic support for Greece has crumbled steadily during the intervening months, SPD lawmaker Joachim Poss said in a June 10 interview. He pointed to a briefing to SPD lawmakers in Berlin two days earlier by Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, who left doubts over Greece’s willingness to embrace reforms.

The “No” vote means a far more difficult situation with a humanitarian aid package likely for pensioners and the poor, who “should not pay a price for the dramatic situation” in which “the government has brought the country,” said Martin Schulz, a German Social Democrat who is president of the European Parliament.

It’s up to the Greek government to come up with “meaningful and constructive proposals,” Schulz said in a video statement. “If not, we are entering a very difficult and even dramatic time.”

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