German parliament is set to vote for the second financial bailout for Greece amid signs of a new dispute within Chancellor Angela Merkel's centre-right coalition over whether the debt-laden nation should remain in the euro zone.
Interior Minister Hans Peter Friedrich caused a stir ahead of the vote by openly calling for a "voluntary exit" of Greece from the euro zone.
Friedrich, a leading politician of Merkel's junior coalition partner Christian Social Union (CSU), suggested that the chances for Greece to recover from its financial and economic crisis and to become competitive are "certainly much better outside" than within the 17-nation group.
He is the first German cabinet minister to openly propose Greece's exit from the euro zone.
"I am not talking about forcing Greece to leave the euro zone, but creating incentives for an exit which it cannot refuse," Friedrich said in an interview published yesterday.
Some other cabinet ministers, including Economics Minister Philipp Roesler, also are in favour of Greece leaving the euro zone, media reports said.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble have until now insisted that Greece should remain a member of the euro group.
Volker Kauder, parliamentary group leader of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) rejected Friedrich's proposal.
"We will make no contribution to the stability of the euro zone by forcing a member to leave the group," he said in a TV interview.
In spite of the division within the coalition, the Bundestag, the lower house of parliament, looks almost certain to endorse a motion from the German finance ministry on the second bailout for Greece with an overwhelming majority as the two main opposition parties, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Green party have pledged to vote for it.
Greece urgently needs the second bailout of 130 billion euros ($170 billion) hammered out by the euro zone finance ministers a week ago, to avoid a default on repaying 14.5 billion euros debts due on March 20.
The heads of state and government of the European Union are expected to sign off the bailout package at their summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday.
In addition to the second bailout package, Greece's private creditors have agreed to write down its debts by 107 billion euros.
Several parliamentarians of Merkel's ruling coalition have threatened to vote against the second bailout for Greece as they did during the Bundestag vote on expanding the euro zone's permanent bailout fund European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) at the end of September, last year.
Merkel faced an embarrassing personal defeat if she fails to secure enough votes from her own ruling coalition parties for a majority.
However, leaders of her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) expressed confidence on the eve of a special Bundestag session that there will be sufficient votes from the coalition MPs to secure at least the minimum of 311 votes needed for a majority in the 620-member house.
Horst Seehofer, Chairman of the Christian Social Union (CSU) and the current care-taker president, said he is optimistic that his party's deputies will vote with an "overwhelming majority" for the bailout package.
Rainer Bruederle, parliamentary leader of the FDP, said some MPs of his party may deny the coalition their votes, but there will be sufficient votes for the coalition’s own majority.
Bruederle, former economics minister, called upon the Greek government to implement the austerity measures and reforms it had agreed in return for the assistance from the EU and the International Monetary Fund.
Greece's EU partners have expressed their readiness to provide comprehensive assistance to the country to overcome its difficulties.
Now it is up to Greece to implement the reforms promised to stabilise its economy, Bruederle said in a newspaper interview.
Germany and its EU partners are approaching the limit of their ability to provide continued financial assistance for Greece.
Therefore, it is very important that the donors stop talking about additional support.
Instead, they should make sure that the recipients of assistance will put their house in order and implement reforms.
"Solidarity is not a one-way street. Therefore, we have to make it sufficiently clear that the readiness to put the tax-payers' money on the table will reach its limit one day," Bruederle said.
He criticised Greece for not fulfilling its commitments in the past.
Besides implementing the austerity measures, Greece should also embark on programmes to promote growth stronger than before.
Balancing the budget alone will not be sufficient.
Greece should also build up an efficient administration and create a reliable framework for investments, he said.