The World from Berlin German Attacks on Greece 'Doubly Harmful'

It's no secret that Greece's public finances are in disorder. But many Greeks have become increasingly disgruntled about criticism from the European Union, particularly from Germany. German commentators on Thursday say that the tone of the debate needs to be raised.

Greek riot policemen take up their positions during Wednesday demonstrations in Athens.
REUTERS

Greek riot policemen take up their positions during Wednesday demonstrations in Athens.


The idea earlier this month seemed to be a good one. European Union leaders gathered in Brussels in mid-February to declare their solidarity with Greece. The country's bloated budget deficit, well over 12 percent of gross domestic product, and its skyrocketing public debt, had led many to fear that the European common currency, the euro, was in trouble. The EU said that, if worse comes to worst, it would help.

Details of the plan, however, have so far been sparse. Aside from imposing harsh austerity measures on Athens and tightening up EU oversight of the country's budget, it remains unclear exactly what Brussels might do. And this week, that has resulted in further doubt about the euro's future.

Greece on Wednesday postponed the offering of a new 10-year bond, originally scheduled for this week, to next week as a result of a warning from Standard & Poor's that it may downgrade the country's sovereign debt next month. Furthermore, the country was hit by a massive 24-hour general strike on Wednesday which brought the capital to a standstill.

The Debate's Growing Absurdity

Amid the uncertainty, the euro has continued to decline against the dollar and other currencies. On Thursday, it hit a 12-month low against the yen. In an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on Thursday, Chancellor Angela Merkel said that "the euro is, for the first time since its introduction, in a difficult situation." She went on to say, however, that she believes the currency will survive the challenge.

Still, there are many in Greece who have accused Germany of being far too hard on Athens in the ongoing EU efforts to encourage Athens to clean up its financial act. Indeed, one Greek paper printed a mock-up of Berlin's Victory Column featuring the goddess Victory holding a swastika on its front page earlier this week -- a reply to a recent cover story in the German newsmagazine Focus which depicted the Venus de Milo holding up her middle finger next to the headline "Swindlers in the Euro Family." Likewise, numerous Greek politicians, including Deputy Prime Minister Theodoros Pangalos, have made reference recently to Berlin's refusal to pay reparations for the Nazi occupation of Greece during World War II.

German commentators on Thursday take a look at the debate's growing absurdity.

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"Cheap generalizations saying essentially 'you Greeks defraud each other at every opportunity' and 'Greeks only work when they've been bribed' are well below the belt. Such sentiments do not differentiate between those responsible for the malaise, who are easily identifiable, and all those Greeks who are suffering, and who now must pay the bill. When the attacks come from the Germans, they are doubly harmful. The largest payer of bribes in Greece in recent years was the German company Siemens. Furthermore, Greeks feel they have been cheated out of World War II reparations."

"The tiff between Greece and Germany is particularly harmful because it plays into the hands of populists on both sides -- and makes it more difficult for those seeking a way out of the current crisis."

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"Greece is facing difficult political and social conflicts. It's no wonder that the search for scapegoats is well under way. Some have already been found, such as the EU, which has imposed harsh austerity measures on the country. No word, however, about the fact that Greece manipulated its way into participation in the common currency zone. Germany is another scapegoat. When Deputy Prime Minister Pangalos was foreign minister, he already called attention to himself with his anti-German comments. Now, in the face of warnings from Berlin, he is playing the Nazi card. How imaginative! Should the Greek government seek to save face with such low blows, it will be difficult to mobilize political solidarity with Greece on the part of the European Union."

The conservative daily Die Welt writes:

"If the truth be told, people in most European countries are not terribly concerned when their governments display a lack of financial discipline. That was the reason why Germans were skeptical of sharing a currency with the Spanish and the Italians. Germany, for its part, is seen as being too exacting; some in Greece have even opted for Nazi comparisons."

"But what looks narrow-minded and uncool, is not necessarily over-exacting. After the euro, in its first 10 years, became a success story and put an end to the notorious currency turbulence which had plagued some European countries, its weaknesses are now coming to the fore. It has become increasingly obvious that Europe ... is unable to deal with crises like that in Greece. There is no mechanism (in the currency union) to bring rule breakers to order. The fact that Germans are mistrustful of efforts to expand the euro zone and the European Union is understandable."

-- Charles Hawley

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