Germany decided to shift its policy on the euro before the elections in Greece. This became clear when Chancellor Angela Merkel allowed the European Central Bank to flood the market with fresh euro bills. During the peak of the currency crisis and until most recently it was completely unthinkable that the German chancellor would ever grant the ECB a political role. But she has done so now.
Greece then voted and the result was unsurprising – both for Berlin and for Brussels. The rhetoric used by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis is brutal but – and this is crucial for Europe – they have suggested that Greece will comply with its previously-agreed obligations. That they are willing to discuss the conditions of paying back their loans is far better than writing taxpayers’ money off completely.
By nature, the perception in Germany is different from that in Greece: The Greeks wanted to be part of the eurozone and snuck their way in at a time when the country was not ready for the common currency. Once they had entered, they could borrow money at lower interest rates, based on conditions that did not reflect Greece’s true credit-worthiness. All this was intensified by the antics of corrupt elites, which feasted on the country’s precarious economic situation for years.
Of course this is just one side of the story but it is crucial: Europe in general and Germany in particular is not responsible for the plight that has befallen the Greeks.
Now to the other side of the story: the German public expected the 240-billion-euro bailout to go into poor mothers’ pensions and secure the jobs of Greek fishermen. We now learn that none of that money appears to have trickled down to them; that poor mothers stand in church lines for soup, that a million Greeks no longer have health insurance, that about 50 percent of the youth remains jobless and that the money, once again, has only ensured the survival of the elite.
This is not the outcome we Germans wanted for Greece – I am convinced of that. The money was meant for real people in real families, with real social and societal relations, for a real country, a real nation, for real friends and partners. I am convinced that Ms. Merkel and her CDU party, of which the letter “C” stands for “Christian,” would agree with me. Starving Europeans? Never again!
Europe has shown solidarity with Greece: This is something both sides should not forget. We Europeans have shown the world, above all the financial speculators, that the Union will stand together – and not only when the sea is calm. This is a joint achievement that will one day be praised. It is a great sign that over 80 percent of Greeks would like to keep the euro and remain in the European Union – that has also been recognized here in Germany.
It is, however, unseemly that Mr. Tsipras has so rudely refused to visit Berlin. To blame another country or even a single politician for the Greek misery makes a new beginning in Greece impossible.
One can leave God out of politics, like Mr. Tsirpas has done in the Communist tradition. But I think Tsipras and his government could use every bit of help they can get. It is always far better to make friends than enemies. How Mr. Tsipras keeps with God is his affair. But Berlin and Brussels should be among his friends if he really intends a new beginning for Greece.
* Alexander Görlach is the publisher and editor-in-chief of the debate magazine The European: www.theeuropean-magazine.com