Understanding that Berlin is entirely indifferent to Athens’ fate should be key to Greek decision-making
In a relationship, indifference is the most corrosive emotion. When there is so little to build on, divorce or misery are the only outcomes. For Greece, understanding that the German government is now entirely indifferent to its fate should be key to its decision-making.
Everything German ministers say in public is repeated in private. “We have done all we can for Greece. The future of the country is in the hands of its people,” sums up several conversations with German officials.
The finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, hammered home this message in weekend interviews, saying that throwing more money at the crisis would not solve the problems, and telling Greece it must try harder rather than seeking to soften bailout terms.
“We have to fight the causes,” Schäuble told German TV network ZDF. “Anyone who believes that money alone or bailouts or any other solutions, or monetary policy at the ECB – that will never resolve the problem. The causes have to be resolved.”
Schäuble and his fellow ministers appreciate the efforts made by Ireland and Portugal to cut their budget deficits and comply with their EU/IMF adjustment programmes.
The German government also approves of Spain’s attempts to follow the Berlin route to recovery.
Set aside for one moment that Schäuble’s economics are not working for the countries in question and are dragging Germany back into recession, it is his firm view that Athens is the only bad apple, that Greece has not made a sufficient effort.
The foreign ministry, run by Guido Westerwelle, the leader of the ultra right wing Free Democrat Party, is even more hardline.
Merkel is more susceptible to public opinion than these male colleagues and fears losing the general election next year if austerity in the periphery rebounds on Germany and wrecks its recovery.
But Merkel, like a circus horserider, is holding the reigns of a troublesome, ultra conservative cabal in her cabinet. In addition, there is an increasingly nervous parliament to keep onside, which knows there are few votes in throwing more loans at Athens.
The Greeks, then, are the undeserving poor who must dust themselves down and work harder or leave the euro. The Germans are happy for Greece to stay inside the tent, but they are unconcerned if they run out of cash and are forced to leave. Indifference rules.