Germany's influential Bild turns eyes to Ireland

By Stephen Evans
BBC News, Berlin

image caption, Bild is the biggest selling newspaper in Europe

When Bild turned its fire on Greece, the sparks were so fierce that they left the German Chancellor Angela Merkel with political burns that have still not quite healed.

Germany - and Europe's - most popular newspaper laid into Greek habits with a vengeance, contrasting the hard-working Germans with what it depicted as the idleness of Greeks, who were alleged to be wedded to all kinds of scams that had left their economy unable to sustain its public spending.

As Bild put it: "Here, people work until they are 67 and there is no 14th-month salary for civil servants. Here, nobody needs to pay a €1,000 [£850] bribe to get a hospital bed in time.

"Our petrol stations have cash registers, taxi drivers give receipts and farmers don't swindle EU subsidies with millions of non-existent olive trees.

"Germany also has high debts but we can settle them. That's because we get up early and work all day," it stated.

So it might make them shiver a little in Ireland to hear that Bild has now turned its attention there, as the crisis moves from the east of the eurozone to the west.

It is only tentative at the moment, but Ireland is on the paper's radar.

'Political weather'

Tuesday's edition called Ireland a "Sorgenkind" - a problem child.

This matters because Bild makes the political weather - and the political weather turned markedly against Mrs Merkel over the bail-out of Greece.

Ordinary Germans took the view that their hard work and saving were being used to support the public finances of an economy based on profligacy.

image caption, Fears have grown that pressure will spread to other weaker eurozone countries

One opinion poll shortly after showed a steep drop in ratings for the coalition which Mrs Merkel leads of her own Christian Democratic Union and the Free Democratic Party.

For the first time, it was lower than the opposition SPD-Green coalition.

Once bitten twice shy, she has now changed her stance.

From seeming like the matriarch who sorts out the mess made by her juniors, she has become the mother who says "no" - or says she will say no.

The politics have changed to a greater toughness about German taxpayers bailing out other countries' finances.

"We can't explain to our citizens and voters in the long run why the taxpayer should bear certain risks and not those who earn a lot of money by taking risks," Mrs Merkel stated.

At the CDU party conference in Karlsruhe on Monday, she made two points concerning the Euro: (1) it cannot be allowed to fail ("Everything is at stake - if the euro fails, then Europe will fail"), but (2) it is for the private sector to pick up some of the bill for failure ("Markets have to bear the consequences of their actions").

This second point was an underlining of her position when she met President Nicolas Sarkozy of France in Deauville in August, and is code for: the German taxpayer cannot be expected to dish out the money in future as it did with Greece.

'Markets must pay'

Her idea is that if governments of eurozone countries find they cannot honour their debts, then it should not only be the governments (and so the taxpayers) of other eurozone countries (such as Germany) which bail them out.

image caption, Mrs Merkel suffered a drop in popularity ratings after the bail-out of Greece

It should also, Mrs Merkel reasons, be the lenders (the bondholders) who lose their money.

As she said: "We can't explain to our citizens and voters why the taxpayer should bear the risk and not those who earn a lot of money".

This is for the long term as a permanent mechanism.

The snag might be that in the short term, a crisis takes on a life of its own.

Mrs Merkel's second point, that markets must pay for the failure of markets, might conflict with her first - the euro cannot fail.

If things get really bad and the very existence of the euro in its current form as a currency across 16 states with very different economies is threatened, then the German taxpayer may well be asked for more.

If. But if that happens, then watch Bild load up - and watch which way Mrs Merkel's poll ratings go.

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