Global Politics

Saving Greece A Hard Sell in Germany

Merkel300.jpg

Merkel300

European leaders reacted positively Wednesday to the news that Greek lawmakers had passed an austerity package. But many of their citizens are still unhappy with having to help Greece out of its financial mess.

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Germans, in particular, feel they're throwing their money away. On the eve of today's vote, a gray haired man named Peter Gzeltman took a break from helping his daughter pack a moving van. He said if the Greeks tighten their belts more, Germany should help. Letting Greece go bankrupt, he said, would create too much uncertainty.

"Maybe it's too dramatic, I don't know what it makes with our euros, the consequences, I don't know," Gzeltman said. "I think we have a responsibility for other countries and other nations and maybe for the Greeks too. So therefore we should pay."

If only German Chancellor Angela Merkel could convince more Germans to think like Gzeltman.

Four out of five Germans say they've come to distrust the euro currency — and the 16-member euro zone, according to a poll from last week. The principal cause: the crisis in Greece. More specifically, its price tag. Greece is deep into a $158 billion rescue already. And if all goes according to plan, by this fall Europe will agree on an even bigger one, to carry Greece through 2014.

Meanwhile austerity measures in Athens have so far only caused the Greek economy to stagnate, and unemployment to rise.

In a tiny northern German village called Brunsbüttel, Petra Cohn smokes a cigarette at the cash register of the town's little casino. She said Europe should let Greece sink. If that sends the euro currency into a tailspin, she said, so be it.

"Things went better when we had the Deutsche Mark," Cohn said. "Since the euro, prices have doubled, but wages have stayed the same. So everything is twice as expensive. No one ever asked me if I wanted the euro!"

Cohn said she wouldn't give another penny to Greece, not even to save the European Union itself. The dissolution of the EU isn't even a remote possibility, but Cohn's attitude is an indication of just how deep German frustration runs. And its costing German Chancellor Angela Merkel political points. Which is why she's insisted on further reforms from Greece before releasing any more money.

"That is the required pre-condition to discuss the question of whether to install additional help measures with a new program," Merkel said this week.

Merkel is right to stand by Greece, said German economist Michael Breuningen. Greece, he said, simply cannot leave the Euro zone, no matter how bad the crisis might seem today.

"Even the expectation that it is possible to leave euro zone will make it more difficult for southern EU countries," Breuningen said. "As soon as you have this, you might have speculation against these countries. Their interest rates will increase. This will make things much more difficult for these countries."

With Wednesday's vote Greece is not out of the woods. On Thursday it must approve specific laws to facilitate privatizing vast sectors of its economy. Each of those privatizations will likely provoke more fierce political, and street, battles. Many economists wager that public opposition will prevail and Greece will lose its financial lifeline.

Which doesn't bother any of these Hamburg cab drivers.

"Germany doesn't have so much money to rescue Greece," said one driver. "We Germans also need money."

"Greece should leave the European Union altogether," shouted a driver named Ali, as he pulled from the curb. "So that Turkey can take its place!"

Turkey has been trying for years to enter the EU. These drivers are all of Turkish descent. Excerpt German Chancellor Angela Merkel argues a Greek default would be worse than the bailout.