Greek bailout increasingly unpopular in Germany
BERLIN — As European finance ministers refused Monday to name specific measures to rescue Greece and the Continent’s common currency, opposition grew among Germans to bailing out what they call spendthrifts to the south after years of belt-tightening by workers at home.
The fiscal crisis, shaking the Greek government while driving down the value of the euro, is forcing taxpayers and voters across Europe to confront the fact that their fortunes are tied together more closely than their politicians confessed in the late 1990s, in the rush to create the common currency over public objections.
In the process it has revealed how deeply national identity, rather than a common European identity, remains the reality on the Continent. Solidarity, at least in the eyes of most voters, still stops at the border.
Despite popular opposition to helping Greece, analysts expect big countries like France and Germany to reach some kind of deal, since the prospect of economic chaos without an agreement is more frightening than even the wrath of voters.
“Just like Obama is not going to let a systemic bank fail, Europe is not going to kick the wayward out of the system,” said Josef Joffe, the publisher of the weekly newspaper Die Zeit. But he added that the reason for that cannot be kept from the voters.
“Europe has become a huge welfare state for everybody, for states as well as individuals,” he said.
Greece’s finance minister, George Papaconstantinou, told his counterparts on Monday that a firmer commitment to helping his country was needed to fend off speculators. Other ministers in the euro zone lectured Greece about using complex financial instruments prepared by Wall Street to hide debt and called for a tighter clampdown on spending, rather than outlining the specifics of an aid package that would calm markets.
European leaders want to extract guarantees from the Greeks to put their finances in order before offering any kind of rescue, but their reticence also stems from the fact that any price tag will have to be defended at home.
Here in Germany, opinion surveys show that two-thirds of the people oppose financial assistance for Greece. More ominously, a survey released Sunday by the newspaper Bild showed that a slight majority of Germans, 53 percent, said they favored expelling Greece from the euro group entirely if its mountain of debt threatened the stability of the currency union.
“Every country has its own debts,” said Kristin Lautenschlaeger, 70, a retiree in Berlin who said she opposed spending German money to save Greece. “Germany is no longer such a rich country anymore, and has its own problems to deal with before it can take care of Greece’s.”