German ratification turns spotlight on Slovakia

Angela Merkel happy ratification_Picnik.jpg

The German Bundestag voted overwhelmingly today (29 September) to approve the expansion of the eurozone's €440 billion bailout fund, turning attention to ratification in the remaining six eurozone countries that have yet to do so. EURACTIV Germany reports.

German chancellor Angela Merkel proved sceptics wrong by securing an "own majority" within her three-party coalition to support the expanded powers of the European Financial Stability Facility.

The law was easily passed, with 523 votes in favour, 85 against and 3 abstentions, ratifying a decision taken by eurozone leaders at a summit on 21 July.

Doubts had been raised as to whether Merkel would need support from the opposition Socialists and Greens to win approval for the EFSF's expanded powers, with renegade members from her liberal FDP coalition partners threatening to reject it.

Opposition had also built up among Merkel's own Christian Democratic Union (CDU), with prominent MP Wolfgang Bosbach saying he would vote against because the EFSF would only buy time without addressing the eurozone's underlying problems.

But Merkel was ultimately able to secure her prized "own majority," avoiding at the same time a leadership crisis within her governing coalition.

"The puppet masters of the CDU's and FDP's parliamentary parties in the Bundestag have skilfully quelled an internal revolution and secured enough support in today's EFSF ratification," said Eurointelligence, an independent web-based service for economic commentary and analysis of the euro area.

However, it also cautioned europhiles not to be overly pleased by the large majority. "The overall outcome was never in doubt, as the opposition [Socialists and Greens] indicated its support" before the vote, Eurointelligence said.

Slovak vote still uncertain

With the eurozone's biggest economy having formally approved the reformed EFSF, attention now turns to the remaining ones.

In Finland, where ratification had raised much public debate, the parliament ratified the changes on Wednesday (28 September), approving at the same time the country's contribution to the second bailout plan for Greece.

But Finland at the same time insisted on obtaining the "collateral guarantees" that Helsinki had asked in return for supporting the second Greek bailout. "Collateral is a condition for Finnish participation," the Finnish finance minister's special adviser, Matti Hirvola, said after the vote.

Now that Germany and Finland have ratified, only six countries remain to approve the changes: Austria, Cyprus, Estonia, Malta, the Netherlands and Slovakia.

Among these, Slovakia now appears to be the biggest obstacle left on the way to completing the ratification process.

The Slovakian parliament is expected to hold a vote before the next EU leaders' summit on 17-18 October, Prime Minister Iveta Radicova and two other coalition parties said on Wednesday (28 September).

Jozef Kollar, Chairman of the Slovakian parliament's Budget Committee, and a member of the junior coalition partner SaS, which opposes the EFSF, suggested an agreement was in sight.

"We want a solution that would meet two conditions: we won't block other countries in approving the EFSF and it won't require a single cent from Slovak taxpayers," Kollar said, according to Bloomberg. When asked whether an agreement within the coalition is in sight, he said: "Yes."

Slovakia has previously warned it would be the last eurozone country to vote on the reformed EFSF.

At a meeting on 21 July, eurozone heads of state and government approved a second aid package for Greece and reforms of the EU's bailout fund, the €440 billion European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) (see summit statement).

But the agreement now needs approval from all 17 national parliaments, and has threatened to destabilise governments in Finland and Slovakia where euroseptic coalition partners have imposed conditions on the Greek bailout.

Following Germany's vote, the expanded powers of the EFSF has been approved by 11 out of 17 euro zone member: Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal, Spain and Slovenia.

  • Votes still expected in: Austria (30 Sept.), Cyprus, Estonia, Malta, the Netherlands and Slovakia.
  • 17-18 Oct.: EU summit in Brussels.

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