Germans and the Greek challenge

German Chancellor Angela Merkel with Greek PM Antonis Samaras in Berlin, 24 Aug 12 Mrs Merkel reiterated her commitment to keeping Greece in the eurozone

It is one of the consequences of the eurozone crisis that Greeks and Germans regard each other with suspicion.

There are many Germans who believe that helping Greece amounts to feeding money into a bottomless pit.

Many Greeks suspect that Berlin wants them out of the euro.

So any meeting between the Greek prime minister and the German chancellor draws attention. When they met today they were both formal with each other but were careful to smile a lot.

This was an early round in a drama which will play out during the autumn. Angela Merkel said again that the goal of the federal government is "that Greece is part of the eurozone and I want Greece to remain part of the eurozone".

She had some praise for the Greek leader. "I am deeply convinced," she said, "that the new Greek government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Samaras, is doing everything to solve the problems that Greece is facing".

She also spoke of a new beginning in the relationship between the two countries. The Greek leader, who has irritated the Germans in the past, would have been pleased with that statement.

But there was no commitment to give Greece new concessions or to guarantee that the country will get the next round of bailout money.

"What Greece can expect from Germany," the chancellor said, "is that we will not make premature judgements but will await reliable evidence, which for me means the troika report". The inspectors from the EU and the IMF will give their assessment of whether Greece is living up to its commitments in September. Only then will Angela Merkel decide whether Athens qualifies for further funding.

'Time is money'

Mr Samaras repeated a message he has been delivering to German papers all week. "We don't want more aid," he said, "but we need breathing space". He is thought to be looking for an extra two years to meet the savings targets. Yesterday the German finance minister said "more time would, in case of doubt, mean more money".

The Greek leader hit out at what he called the "toxic statements" that questioned whether Greece was about to leave the euro. Such speculation, he said, made privatisations impossible.

All of this is early skirmishing. The real questions will have to be addressed if the inspectors conclude that Greece is not just failing to meet its targets but cannot make the grade because of the collapse of the Greek economy.

There will be many in Germany who will conclude that "enough is enough". That is unlikely to be the view of the German chancellor. She said today that the euro "is more than just a currency, it's the idea of a united Europe". She went on to say that "a united Europe is irreversible".

The German leader, it seems, is preparing the ground to tell the German people that further sacrifices will have to be made to save the big idea, the grand project. It would be hard to let Greece go when she has declared a united Europe as "irreversible".

She is also risk-averse as a politician and would always fear the unknown of a Greek exit and the possibility of the markets then turning on Italy and Spain. So the expectation has to be of a "fudge", whereby a formula is found for Greece to muddle through.

The difficulty will come if Greece needs further funding. It would be very difficult to get the German parliament to agree to that, but watching Angela Merkel today it was hard to imagine her ever putting Greece in the situation of having to leave the euro and opening herself to the accusation that she had let down the European project.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    What does Angela mean by a “United Europe”? Weakened national parliaments, a stronger Commission, with the balance of power remaining with heads of governments including herself? Tough measures being enforced by an elite? Surely such a vision is anti-democratic and certainly anti-parliamentarian. A detailed debate is needed on what is meant by “the idea of a United Europe”.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    46 Dailymailreader
    "Why despite Barrosso's may dream of superstates, the ordinary citizen loves his own country"

    It may be this why against all odds I still believe in the European Project: it is coessential to having a fair and unbiased press.

    Incidentally in the good press of my country Angela Merkel and Wolfgang Schauble are respected politicians, if holders of opinions open to argument.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    BP, most national newspapers use the same tactics. Look at the Bild talking about lazy Southern Europe Southern European paper's dressing Merkel as Hitler. It's an indication tha nationalism is alive and kicking in Europe.
    Why despite Barrosso's may dream of superstates, the ordinary citizen loves his own country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    @40 Inter-Nos

    Who are you asking? People reading the BBC website know only of the mafia don killed on a beach and the rise in the last year of petty crime in Italy, just look at the Europe and Business page. For financial stuff they are waiting for the next downgrade. Don't you know the facts-filtering patterns the Brits are using to emotionally distance themselves from Southern Europe?

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    Question: Why are we talking about Merkel/Germany if it's the trojka that is helping Greece?

    Answer: Because since day one Germany decided that Greece was not a problem of rational analisys, but rather a case open for the doctrine of punishment, mostly for purposes of domestic politics.

    Why otherwise the opinion of the Germans on Greeks would be more important than than of the trojka?

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    I read that a bear will attack whoever was the last one to attack it. So today Europe is focused on Greece.Tomorrow it will be Spain. Then Italy. It seems Europe has tunnelled vision, it has lost sight of the bigger picture. You could plug the Greek leak until it's so water tight not a drop will see through but the ship will still sink. Too many holes have been bored in the hull by a lot of crooks

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    What should European tax payers think of this ?

    --The whole of Greek life is being proposed as tax deductible !

    -- and Europe is expected to finance it ?

    -- they appear to have a few loose Marbles --and trust others have more !

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    What is worse for Europe -- no Germany or no Greece ?

    What is worse for the UK --no Germany or no Greece ?

    --one should either use a pacifier -- or a nappy.

    Germany has become of age --because of Europe´s (including the UK) incompetence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    EU haters in Brit media predicted euro collapse every month for 2 years...err when WILL it happen guys? In fact EU collaboration high, instruments for management of euro taking shape and key countries' situation stabilising: eg Italy near budget surplus & tax revenue up, private savings & gold reserves high. Meanwhile US & UK deficits out of control, cuts coming & debt rising.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    @Adam, 38, margaret howard, 28: 'in Greece heads are in the sand, there is no sanitation, it looks like 19th century, etc': good to say where exactly -btw, there are so many islands and more isolated places. As for the Germans, one can say privately what he likes, but German tourists are treated fine.
    @Anselm, 37: 'a weird (very ancient) script'. Right, 5-6 different letters: a lot of of pain, eh?

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Just back from Athens. The thing that struck me was that hotels/shops seem to be quite blatant about stating they prefer cash even to the point of informing you that there is a cashpoint just round the corner. Cash in hand and the taxman don’t really go together.

    To be fair though its not all the Greeks fault, lenders were lending so that they could buy their products so share the blame.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Wise comment from #1. Who on earth would invest in Greece ? Complete uncertainty, corruption, massive bureaucracy, a weird (very ancient) script. Climate change will impact Greece long before it hits most of Europe. Far from inward investment, most Greeks and foreigners are desperately trying to get their money OUT. But nice phrase from Gavin - "High priests in Brussels" - how right he is!

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    "She went on to say that "a united Europe is irreversible".

    Wonder if thats regardless of whether the minions ( citizens ) of Europe want a united Europe ?. What a wonderfully democratic world we live in.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    27. "We are only where we are because we have been tricked, deceived and betrayed."

    Agree but not by "Europe" - you only have your own leaders (political and corporate) to blame.

    And regarding Merkel's "irreversible" statement, nothing is irreversible, especially in politics. There may well be pain in "reversing" but if it's less than going forward, reverse it is!

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    ' ...She went on to say that "a united Europe is irreversible". '

    EUpris: She cannot make it irreversible because people will be able to destroy it with violence. Trying to make it irreversible will encourage violence. I am not advocating violence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    31. Was Ludwig II murdered?

    Yes. For numerous reasons. But he was not bribed to join the German Reich - it didn't exist.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    margaret howard

    10 thesnowman

    "Just back from a month in Greece - to be honest most of the Greeks I spoke to have there head firmly in the sand"

    IMO it can't be overcome however much goodwill there is.

    EUpris: I say Marge! Well spread!

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Ludwig II of Bavaria was bribed to take Bavaria into the German Reich.

    I have not seen any bribery in Germany but there are a lot of reports of it.

    I have met some frighteningly fanatical German "EU"-lovers in the past but none recently.

    Given the reports of bribery, and the fanaticism, I assume that the UK is in the "EU" because some of our MPs have been bribed.

    Was Ludwig II murdered?

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Some have likened her to Hilter. I think she is more like Bismark. He paved the way for Kaiser Bill, Hitler and two world wars without meaning to.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Govt revenue to GDP ratio 2011
    Greece 41%
    Germany 46%
    France 51%
    Finland 54%
    NL 46%

    Tax revenue as % of GDP in 2010
    Eurozone average 40%
    Greece 33%

    How come Greeks seem to be still paying so little tax relative to others and they want to borrow from countries where the citizens personally contribute a greater share of their income to the state?


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