Germany Backs Greece Aid, but at a Cost to Merkel

Even as doubts continued to grow here that Greece’s finances can be stabilized in the long run, 496 members of the Bundestag voted to sign off on the $175 billion Greek rescue package while just 90 voted against and 5 members abstained. With the vote in hand, Mrs. Merkel can now travel to Brussels for a summit meeting of European leaders on Thursday and Friday with the parliamentary approval necessary to agree to a deal European finance ministers reached last week to keep Greece from a disorderly default.

Yet, what at first looked like a blowout victory turned instead into a seeming political embarrassment. With the conviction taking hold that Greece is beyond saving, so many members of Mrs. Merkel’s coalition defected that the bailout passed only with the support of the more left-leaning opposition parties, the Greens and the Social Democrats.

“No one can give a 100 percent guarantee of success,” Mrs. Merkel said, acknowledging the growing doubts about Greece’s prospects. But there would be “incalculable risks,” she said, if help were cut off.

The failure to reach the symbolic threshold known as the “chancellor’s majority,” or a simple majority in the Bundestag from the ranks of the governing coalition, prompted immediate speculation about how firm Mrs. Merkel’s grip on power was. If it was not a shockwave, it was definitely a tremor.

Mrs. Merkel’s government rests on an alliance of her own conservative Christian Democratic Union with the sister party for the state of Bavaria, the Christian Social Union, and the liberal pro-business Free Democrats. The two smaller parties often try to raise their profile by criticizing the government but are supposed to fall into line for important votes.

Last week the Free Democrats, who have languished in the polls, broke with Mrs. Merkel and said the party would side with the opposition Social Democrats and the Greens to support Joachim Gauck, the former pastor and East German activist, as Germany’s next president. Mrs. Merkel went along with the smaller party, suffering a blow to her authority in the process.

In coalition politics, the symbolic has a way of becoming real all too quickly. Doubts breed weakness, and out of weakness spring new doubts.

Uwe Jun, a professor of political science at the University of Trier, said he did not expect Mrs. Merkel to do anything drastic like call for a snap election. “Her pragmatic response will be to wait and see how it will work in the next month and whether this liberal party is still a reliable partner,” Mr. Jun said. “We can’t yet talk about the possible last days of her chancellorship, but it is a difficult situation.”

Many Germans oppose bailing out the Greeks on principle, and a growing number are saying it is a fool’s proposition. The Greek economy, they say, keeps shrinking faster than anticipated, cutting tax revenues and making it harder for Athens to meet its fiscal goals, and there are few signs of recovery.

The news that some Greek lawmakers had been shifting personal assets out of the troubled country has only added to the sense of pessimism and gloom.

“I still don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel,” said Philip Whyte, a senior research fellow at the Center for European Reform. “It’s not clear to me when Greece returns to growth under this policy mix. The fiscal policy is excessively tight, and Greece is being pushed down a totally self-defeating path.”

Over the weekend, Germany’s interior minister, Hans-Peter Friedrich, became the first member of Mrs. Merkel’s cabinet to say publicly that Greece should be encouraged to leave the euro, though many others have said so in private.

“Greece’s chances to regenerate itself and become competitive are surely greater outside the monetary union than if it remains in the euro area,” Mr. Friedrich told the weekly newsmagazine Der Spiegel.

Suzanne Daley contributed reporting from Athens.