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.

Gavin Hewitt Article written by Gavin Hewitt Gavin Hewitt Europe editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    65 Maria

    "It is a voluntary confederation of equals."

    A true description as contrary to some opinion, no-one was forced into this confederation and its success so far has been without precedence in the history of mankind.
    Hopefully this is just a hiccup and future generations will be grateful that we had the courage to persevere with this great project.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    62 WolfiePeters
    "Don't you think that the lesson from history is that Europeans wars are caused, rather than averted, by attempts to maintain or create union in Europe?"

    Of course not, that was just nationalism led imperialism under the drag of unification. Now we are playing an entirely different ball game: where are the wars in the EU?

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    65.Maria Ashot
    "It is a voluntary confederation of equals."

    Read this again and think on what a eyewateringly grotesque comment this is, considering the topic of this blog and the way the smaller nations (eg Ireland & their referenda) are treated by FrancoPrussia GmbH

    Need more than 400 characters to do justice to the rest of your opinion, but 'hilarious myopic optimism' sums it up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    60:A society with a population of over half a billion is hardly comparable to 1 ship in which the builders neglected to add enough lifeboats.Neither is the EU an "empire."It is a voluntary confederation of equals.Also the most advanced society on the planet & in fact the most advanced society ever to have taken shape thus far.So you had better hope it is irreversible, if you value your own Rights.

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    "a united Europe is irreversible"

    This statement is a triumph of optimism over reality and one which we in Britain would be only too happy to disprove if only our spineless, self-interested political elite ever had the courage to put it to the vote.

    Also, it's completely hypocritical to bang on about 'irreversible' when it is Merkel's own policies that will force Greece back to the drachma.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    58. watriler
    Indeed structural reform takes time which is why Greece and other nations need support over time. That support will only be provided if there is confidence that Greece et al will implement reform. The Franco-German ‘axis’ of old was seen by others as an anti-democratic imposition and in any case it has ceased to exist. Only a truly democratic federal solution can hope to succeed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    Maria @54

    Don't you think that the lesson from history is that Europeans wars are caused, rather than averted, by attempts to maintain or create union in Europe?

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    57: Greeks who dislike "harsh EU" should try moving in with their Greek cousins in the USA.

    Geography is destiny: land cannot be simply moved to a new neighbourhood. Greek Golden Age was 2.5 millenia ago. We all do the best we possibly can with the hand we have been dealt. Cheating precipitated this calamity. Integrity will be the antidote. It will work, but it will take a few years for Results.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    "a united Europe is irreversible". Is that the same as the Titanic being unsinkable? Anyone with a cursory knowledge of history knows there is no such thing as an irreversible empire. The tide of events will wash anything away – the British & Hapsburg empires being good recent examples.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    40 Inter-Nos

    "Meanwhile US & UK deficits out of control, cuts coming & debt rising."

    To get an idea how far down the road US has been driven by the banksters in charge of Wall Street you have to watch Max Keiser on Russia Today (tues+thurs). He is himself a former WS banker and has inside knowledge.
    Europe must carry on solving its own financial problems or we will sink with them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    If the Franco-German Axis does not do something to pull Greece out of their 'death' spiral there will be some sort of a breakdown of democracy and society in that country. It is not structural reform (which takes time) but a self defeating slashing of the public sector and workers terms and conditions that is the real thrust of the imposed policies and which is progressively destroying the economy

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    Really...! Is a united Europe irreversible?

    Not according to the Greeks I spoke with this summer, who feel that if the EU is happy to see 'real people' starve, to prop up a 'failed banking system', then it is not an EU they would wish to remain a member of.

    This Greek tragedy could herald the break-up of the EU. Perhaps not the outcome Germans and other hardliners, but perhaps the outcome.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    At last, GH sees that Merkel will not allow herself to be the person responsible for the euro fracture, and that she, being risk averse, cannot predict the consequences of Greece exiting. Her mind is now concentrated on saving her reputation in history. She will not permit Germany to be blamed for the destruction of the euro. The euro must be saved, and eurozone strengthened. Euro is up against $

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    How have we got here? After all it was not so long ago that Stephanie Flanders was telling us this in her blog (May 2011).

    "Why the Greek bail-out has worked"

    For whom?

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    One Europe Is Irreversible. Why? Because anything short of One Europe makes an eventual European war -- however remote -- a certainty. And the world needs Europeans for a purpose of far greater consequence to everyone's future than self-slaughter would ever allow. WW1 should never have happened. It was the culmination of prior conflicts & WW2 rehearsal. Lesson learnt: 1EU. Common policies. Peace.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    Until we discuss this point as a Greece-Germany-France-Spain -Italy and ect. will never resolve the problem this is a EZ problem two actions only will resolve once for ever the current problem:
    One a political/fiscal union in the next year or two for all the EZ
    Two a total divorce from the economic policy of the USA and the creation of our brand of capitalism.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    The richer nations will only be persuaded to provide extended help to poorer countries if they have faith that those countries will accept structural reform. The pain of structural reform will only be accepted if backed by democratic mandate. A Brussels elite cannot provide such a mandate; it can only come from a government chosen by a directly elected federal parliament. Otherwise unity is myth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    24th August 2012 - 20:03

    31. Was Ludwig II murdered?

    " ... he was not bribed to join the German Reich - it didn't exist."

    EUp: According to the German documentary I watched and a German history teacher I know he was bribed. His bribe was Neuschwanstein.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    RE 17

    It is never too late, it is just that the cost gets higher the longer you leave it. We should never have joined the EU but we can, and must, leave it before it destroys us entirely. Once we have the feeling of relief and the benefits of freedom will soon overwhelm any regrets expressed by those who want to be ruled by Brussels.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    #40. Inter-Nos
    I presume you have spent time living and working in all of the countries discussed in the article and the ones you have mentioned. If so, it must have taken place over 5 yrs ago.
    Greece stopped biting the hand that feeds it the day she took the whole arm.
    Greece agreed to the terms of their multiple bailouts, so why move the posts yet again?!!


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