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German parliament approves ESM, fiscal pact

BERLIN--Germany's parliament approved both the so-called fiscal compact — a cherished project of Chancellor Angela Merkel — and the 500-billion-euro (US$623 billion) European Stability Mechanism (ESM) by a wide majority Friday.

Hard on the heels of a “breakthrough” EU summit, Merkel dashed back from Brussels to address lawmakers before the Bundestag lower house and Bundesrat upper chamber voted by a two-thirds majority to back 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, members of the two main opposition parties backed Merkel who needed their support since the fiscal pact entails changes to the German constitution and thus required a two-thirds majority of lawmakers in both chambers.

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

She said any use of the bailout funds would follow 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.

“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.

Late on Friday, in the Bundesrat representing Germany's 16 regional states, 65, out of the 69 who voted, approved both the fiscal pact and ESM.

To obtain enough votes, Merkel had to give some ground on centre-left Social Democratic Party and Green party 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.

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 500-billion-euro ESM is due to take over from the European Financial Stability Facility and cannot be established without Germany's backing. The fund was originally to begin operations on July 1 but is now widely expected to be pushed back.

Germany is also facing a delay 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 that it would need up to three weeks to examine a legal challenge by the extreme Left Party. Opponents of Europe's new budget-discipline pact and the eurozone's permanent rescue fund are asking Germany's highest court to issue injunctions blocking the plans.

Various opponents applied Saturday to the Federal Constitutional Court for injunctions blocking the plans while judges consider whether they're in line with German law. A decision could take a few weeks.

Plaintiffs include the hard-left opposition Left Party — the only party to oppose the plans in parliament — and Peter Gauweiler, one of a few lawmakers in Merkel's center-right coalition who has consistently rejected bailouts.

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel, center, raises her hand with other lawmakers during a vote on the European Union's fiscal compact at the parliament Bundestag in Berlin, Friday, June 29. The parliament approved both the so-called fiscal compact and the 500-billion-euro (US$623 billion) ESM by a wide majority Friday.(AP)

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