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EUROZONE

Germans set to confirm Greek aid Thursday

German parliament is set to vote on Thursday to clear an aid package agreed for Greece, a senior deputy from Chancellor Angela Merkel's party said, as the main opposition party pledged its support.

Germans set to confirm Greek aid Thursday
Photo: DPA

The “current rough plan” is that Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble will give a speech in the Bundestag lower house on Thursday, followed by a vote, said Michael Grosse-Brömer, chief whip of Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU).

After marathon talks overnight, finance ministers from the 17 eurozone countries agreed to release €43.7 billion in emergency aid for Greece and hinted that more of its debt may have to be forgiven.

The parliamentary head of Germany’s main opposition party, the centre-left Social Democrats, Frank-Walter Steinmeier said his group would back the deal, meaning Berlin is virtually certain to rubber stamp the agreement.

“I will not recommend to my group any action that would lead to Greece being insolvent in the short-term and in that case being forced to leave the eurozone,” Steinmeier told ZDF public television.

However, he urged the ruling coalition to come clean over the issue of a so-called haircut – governments and the European Central Bank accepting a loss on their Greek debt holdings.

With less than a year to go until elections, Merkel has been vehemently opposed to such a haircut, which would mean German taxpayers footing part of the bill.

Some eurozone states however have said they would “not exclude” the possibility of writing off some debt from 2015 onwards.

“The haircut has not been avoided, it has merely been postponed until after the federal election … it will come after 2014,” Steinmeier said.

Norbert Barthle, budgetary spokesman for the CDU, told German radio: “It could be the case, according to the current planning, that a haircut could occur in 2020.”

AFP/jcw

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ECONOMY

German cabinet agrees record levels of new debt for 2021

The German government agreed Wednesday to take on record borrowing this year to weather the economic blow of the coronavirus pandemic.

German cabinet agrees record levels of new debt for 2021
Finance Minister Olaf Scholz. credit: dpa | Kay Nietfeld

In budget adjustments signed off by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet, Europe’s largest economy will borrow a total €240.2 billion in 2021, a third more than initially planned.

The adjusted budget, which will see Berlin break its taboo on new debt for the third year in a row, still has to be approved by parliament.

“We have decided to suspend the debt brake once again, and I think that’s justified,” Merkel told the Bundestag lower house, adding that the budget was “measured” despite “more insecurity” than usual.

“We are taking the right measures to manage the economic and financial effects of the pandemic,” added Finance Minister Olaf Scholz.

After maintaining a budget surplus for the last decade, the economic slump caused by the pandemic has forced Berlin to take on €370 billion in new debt in 2020 and 2021, with an extra €85.1 billion planned for 2022.

With the country facing a dangerous third wave and shutdown measures extended into April, Germany’s recovery has proved slower than expected this year.

Having originally planned to halt borrowing in 2022, the government is now aiming to return to its golden rule of fiscal discipline a year later, with only €8.3 billion of new debt in 2023.

The so-called “debt brake” is a rule enshrined in the constitution which forbids the government from borrowing more than 0.35 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in a year.

READ ALSO: Merkel admits Easter coronavirus shutdown plan her ‘mistake alone’

Germany smashed the taboo in 2020 and 2021 as it scrambled to shield businesses and workers from the economic hit of the coronavirus.

The state has already paid out more than 114 billion euros of financial support to businesses since the beginning of the pandemic in the form of guaranteed loans, direct aid and shorter-hours work schemes.

Yet according to a report published by the German Economic Institute on Wednesday, the crisis has still cost the German economy 250 billion euros so far.

Extended restrictions

Hopes of a recovery this year have been dashed with entire sectors of the economy idled for months and the government revising down its 2021 growth forecast to three percent in January.

As a third wave of the pandemic tears through Europe, Germany extended shutdown measures by another several weeks at a marathon meeting between Merkel and state premiers on Monday.

Though plans for a strict five-day lockdown over Easter were scrapped Wednesday, businesses such as non-essential shops, leisure facilities and cultural venues will still remain largely closed until at least April 18.

In a report published Monday, the Bundesbank central bank predicted that restrictions would see economic output “contract markedly” in the first quarter of 2021.

The measures have also been met with growing frustration from business organisations, with the German Commerce Association warning that 120,000 shops could be forced to close if the measures continue to drag on.

The issue of taking on new debt, meanwhile, has also sparked heated political debate ahead of a September general election.

In January, Merkel’s chief of staff Helge Braun caused a major ruckus within his own CDU party when he suggested that the rule on fiscal discipline should be lifted for several years to come.

SEE ALSO: ‘We have finances well under control’: Germany takes on less debt than expected in 2020

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