BERLIN (Reuters) - A conservative leader whose rebellion against strengthening the euro zone rescue fund shook Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government said on Thursday he was rattled by the verbal attacks he endured.
Wolfgang Bosbach, a senior member of parliament for Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), told Reuters he was appalled that criticism of his stance degenerated into personal attacks that, he said, went below the belt.
“I was aware that by voting against the majority there would be some problems,” Bosbach told Reuters after Merkel’s coalition mustered a majority to expand the European Financial Stability Fund’s (EFSF) powers despite 10 conservative MPs voting ‘no’.
“But I never would have imagined the problems being as massive as that. I was unpleasantly surprised. These kinds of methods were something I’d never seen before in the CDU. It was very disappointing.”
Proceedings in the German parliament were uncharacteristically spontaneous on Thursday. Some of the rebels were heckled by coalition colleagues. Normally speakers are applauded by their own camp. Sometimes, the whole house applauds.
But rebels like Klaus-Peter Willsch of the CDU and Frank Schaeffler of the Free Democrats (FDP) were ostracised and ignored. There was silence each time a rebel finished speaking and sat down.
“We’re heading towards a monetary planned economy,” said Schaeffler, a former insurance salesman, comparing the EFSF to the communism that until 1989 ruled just a block east of the Reichstag in East Germany.
“The previous help for Greece didn’t defuse the situation -- it only made it worse. And this will make it even worse.”
Willsch got nothing but icy stares from the coalition benches when he warned the EFSF was tearing Europe apart, sparking anti-Europe and anti-German demonstrations because German-led austerity demands were causing deep pain in Europe.
“We can’t force our way of life upon others,” Willsch said.
Bosbach, a party loyalist with impeccable conservative credentials, said he didn’t think it would be the last vote in parliament on the euro zone rescue fund and he would not be surprised if the numbers shift next time.
He said the pressure from Merkel and her parliamentary floor leader Volker Kauder had been intense -- and effective.
“I had a long chat with the chancellor and parliamentary floor leader about my position and it was completely fair,” he said. “No complaints. But when a debate starts going below the belt, you’ve got to think about it all.”
Bosbach, a powerful CDU baron and chairman of the parliament’s internal affairs committee, said he was hurt by charges from some MPs that he was seeking revenge for being passed over as interior minister.
“Some people spread fairy tales about me to journalists,” Bosbach said. “They said I was only voting no because of career disappointments. That was nonsense. Then they said we were being ‘bad Europeans’ and don’t know the value of the European integration process as if that was what was on the agenda.”
“It hurt and it was below the belt,” he said.
Bosbach said Merkel had done an effective job of “massaging” a number of the rebels.
“I wouldn’t blame anyone for changing their minds. We were all torn. On the one side there were the facts and on the other side the wish to have a majority. And in a situation like that, a call from the chancellor has an impact.”
“There was a newspaper cartoon today showing Merkel on her way to meet the rebels, with a bucket of water in one hand, calling Dick Cheney on the phone asking ‘How do you do that water boarding again?'. I laughed out loud when I saw that.”
Reporting By Erik Kirschbaum; editing by Janet McBride