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Give Greece a chance, says Schaeuble before German vote

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble addresses a session of Germany's parliament, the Bundestag, in Berlin, Germany, August 19, 2015, prior to a vote on Greece's third bailout programme. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt

By Paul Carrel and Tina Bellon

BERLIN (Reuters) - German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble urged lawmakers to back a third bailout for Greece in a vote on Wednesday, saying while there were no guarantees of success, it would be irresponsible not to give Greeks the chance for a new start.

Lawmakers are expected to overwhelmingly support the 86 billion-euro ($95 billion) bailout, though Chancellor Angela Merkel faces a dangerous rebellion in her own party ranks.

A significant minority of Merkel's conservatives voting against the package would send the government a warning that this is its last chance to keep debt-ridden Greece in the 19-country euro zone.

Schaeuble, who has taken a tougher line than Merkel in bailout talks and last month tabled the option of a 'timeout' from the euro zone for Greece, told lawmakers it was the best path for the currency bloc to follow.

"Of course, after the experience of the last years and months there is no guarantee that everything will work and it is permissible to have doubts," Schaeuble said in his address to the Bundestag lower house.

"But in view of the fact that the Greek parliament has already passed a large part of the measures it would be irresponsible to not use the opportunity for a new start in Greece," he said, making the case for the government.

In a test ballot of conservative lawmakers late on Tuesday - a non-binding vote - a clear majority voted in favor of the bailout. Sixty of out of 311 voted 'no' or abstained, fewer than some in her party had feared.

The results of the vote are expected at around 1200 local time (0600 EDT).

Support from parties including the Social Democrats (SPD), Merkel's junior coalition partner, and the opposition Greens means German approval of the bailout is not in doubt. But a rebellion by a large number of her allies would be a blow for Merkel, who remains highly popular after 10 years in office.

"The 'no' votes won't threaten the chancellor but they certainly are a warning," said SPD lawmaker Karl Lauterbach.


Merkel sat impassively as Greens co-leader Anton Hofreiter criticized her government for taking a hard line during talks leading up to the accord on the new bailout.

"A German government leadership that acts like that damages the cohesion in Europe and thereby damages Germany by damaging our standing in Europe," Hofreiter said to applause.

In the Netherlands, the government of Prime Minister Mark Rutte is expected to face a call for a no-confidence vote from euro-sceptic, right-wing rival Geert Wilders, when parliament debates the bailout program on Wednesday.. On Tuesday, the parliaments of Austria, Estonia and Spain voted to approve the bailout.

Several German conservatives were adamantly opposed to the deal. "We are going further in the direction of a transfer union," said CDU lawmaker Wolfgang Bosbach, who has opposed previous Greek bailouts, before the vote.

But Schaeuble threw his weight behind the package and said Athens had clearly shifted ground in the last few weeks and was ready to reform.

He also reiterated the German view that it is imperative for the International Monetary Fund to stay on board. The IMF, however, says it won't unless Greece gets debt relief, while Germany is against cutting Greek debt.

"I am fairly confident that we (international creditors including the IMF) will reach a joint assessment of (Greece's) debt sustainability in October," said Schaeuble, reiterating that a debt haircut is not possible.

Last month, a record 65 lawmakers from the conservative camp broke ranks and refused to back the start of bailout talks.

(Writing by Paul Carrel and Madeline Chambers; Additional reporting by Caroline Copley; Editing by Toby Chopra and John Stonestreet)