German lawmakers approved a hard-won bailout extension for Greece Friday in a move Germany's finance chief called "not easy" but necessary, lifting the last hurdle to keeping a crucial lifeline open to Athens.
With worsening Greek economic data With worsening Greek economic data heightening the pressure, Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble vigorously urged German MPs to support giving Greece a four-month breathing space despite widespread misgivings.
"I'd like to ask parliament, each lawmaker, not to reject the request by the ministry of finance, which wasn't easy for me either, because this would do great harm to our people and our future," Schaeuble told parliament.
The 72-year-old deeply pro-European minister, who has traded barbs with Athens in recent weeks, said the peoples of Europe were a "community" based on solidarity where those currently better off help those in difficulty.
"We, and especially Germany, will have a good future in the 21st century only if European integration remains successful and if we stand united in Europe," he said.
The plain-talking veteran minister had starkly warned earlier this week that Greece would not receive "a single euro" until it meets the pledges of its existing 240-billion-euro ($270-billion) bailout programme.
And he sought to reassure lawmakers it was not a question of stumping up "new billions" for Greece, or changing the bailout but rather about "granting more time to successfully conclude" the plan adopted for Athens in 2012.
As expected, the extension won overwhelming support in the lower house Bundestag where Chancellor Angela Merkel's left-right coalition has a commanding majority.
Some 541 MPs voted in favour, according to a slightly modified count released by parliament later, while 32 lawmakers voted against and 13 abstained.
- 'No more billions' -
Eurozone finance ministers had approved the four-month bailout extension for Greece to avert a potentially calamitous end-February deadline that could have seen Athens default and exit from the euro.
To secure the extra time, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras's new hard-left government agreed with creditors to refrain from one-sided reform rollbacks and published a list of proposed reforms focused on tackling tax evasion and corruption and improving government efficiency.
Greece's maverick Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis on Friday told Antenna TV that the deal sealed after gruelling negotiations with creditors was worded in a "deliberately" vague way to ensure its approval by European parliaments.
The new Greek government faces having to walk a fine line between the demands of international creditors and following through on the anti-austerity promises that swept it to power last month.
The first anti-government protest since Tuesday's EU agreement was marred by violence in Athens Thursday.
Greece's economy shrank by 0.4 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014, more than previously thought, official data showed Friday, the first quarter-on-quarter contraction since the country exited a six-year recession last year.
With a more than 1.5-billion-euro ($1.7-billion) repayment to the International Monetary Fund looming in March, Varoufakis acknowledged Friday that "at this moment the coffers are empty".
But he has told Bloomberg News this week that he was counting on the European Central Bank coming to the rescue by handing over 1.9 billion euros in Greek bond profits.
Greece's debt of 320 billion euros, equivalent to 175 percent of its annual economic output, is now mostly owed to its European partners.
Berlin's unwaveringly hardline on the need for Greece to stick to economic reforms in return for aid is shared in other capitals, from Helsinki to Madrid and Lisbon, another bailout recipient.
Merkel, who has said the extension is just a "starting point" and that Berlin is under "no illusions" about the challenges ahead, faces political pressure from bailout-weary voters at home.
Seventy-one percent of Germans doubt that Athens will implement the savings and reforms it has announced, a poll for ZDF public broadcaster indicated Friday.
In parliament, among the 32 "no" votes, 29 came from the ranks of Merkel's own conservative bloc, with scepticism summed up by Christian Democrat MP Klaus-Peter Willsch, who asked "would you buy a used car" from Tsipras?
Top-selling tabloid-style newspaper Bild again Friday fanned public sentiment amid German taxpayers' widespread fears they will never see the money again.
"Bild readers say Nein (no)!" read the front-page headline, showing photos of readers holding up signs that read "Nein -- no more billions for the greedy Greeks", which were published in the previous day's edition.