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Europe

Germany's Merkel favors bank help for Greek loan package

Chancellor Angela Merkel said she would welcome a contribution from Germany's private sector to the Greek financial aid package, while a prominent opposition leader called the proposed move "no more than a placebo."

Chancellor Angela Merkel rummages in her purse.

Merkel will be digging deep, but she'd love some help

"I would very much welcome voluntary participation from banks," Merkel said, according to advance excerpts from an interview set to be published in the mass-circulation Bild am Sonntag paper on Sunday, May 2.

The eurozone and IMF emergency loans deal for Greece is unpopular in Germany, and politicians were initially reluctant to support the idea. However, most now seem to believe that the measure is necessary to prop up the single European currency, the euro.

The former leader of the opposition Social Democrats and current state premier of Rhineland-Palatinate, Kurt Beck, was among the first politicians to suggest that banks should contribute to the Greek rescue fund - and the idea has picked up speed since then.

State broadcaster ARD, citing insider sources, now reports that Germany's banks will contribute around 1.2 billion euros ($1.6 billion) to the rescue package. Germany is set to provide just over 8 billion euros in the first year, paying the largest share of any eurozone nation because Germany is the bloc's largest economy.

France will be the second largest eurozone contributor to the Greek package and Merkel and her French counterpart, Nicolas Sarkozy, are ready to act quickly to unlock a massive rescue plan for Greece, Sarkozy's office said Saturday.

Sarkozy spoke by phone with the German chancellor and both "reaffirmed their determination to act quickly to implement the support plan" once spending cuts are agreed with Athens, said an Elysee statement.

'Just a placebo'

A red traffic light over the skyline in Frankfurt, central Germany.

The Frankfurt-based banking community is already exposed to the Greek market

But bank participation in the Greece rescue plan is not to everyone's liking. Chancellor Merkel's main adversary in the Bundestag and leader of the Social Democrats, Sigmar Gabriel, is not excited by the prospect of banks contributing to the loan package.

Gabriel said in an interview with the Neue Westfaelische newspaper on Saturday that the proposition was just an attempt to "quell the public rage that taxpayers would have to pay for the greed of bankers and speculators for a second time."

"What's now being considered by Deutsche Bank boss Josef Ackermann and the coalition government in Berlin, namely for banks to voluntarily contribute [towards the Greek rescue], is nothing more than a placebo," Gabriel said.

Deutsche Bank CEO Josef Ackermann has not yet commented publicly on the issue, but a series of reports all name him as the coordinator of a bank contribution to the Greek fund.

Ackermann held an emergency meeting with Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou and Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou in Athens in February, looking for ways to help the country, which owes money to Deutsche Bank.

German banks have the second-largest exposure to the Greek market, after their French counterparts.

Payback time?

A mock German government sign with Bad Bank written below the eagle logo.

Banks are not very popular among Germans right now

As in much of the western world, anti-bank sentiment in Germany is currently very strong. Popular perception is that the institutions single-handedly caused the recent recession, only to be bailed out by the government and taxpayers.

Germany was one of many countries that helped its banks stay afloat during the recent recession - with perhaps the most famous near-failed money-lender, Hypo Real-Estate, applying for another 1.85 billion euros on Friday. HRE has already received a string of loans and credit guarantees from Berlin worth in excess of 100 billion euros.

The fact that derivatives trading and currency speculation helped tip Greek interest rates to an unmanageable level - forcing Athens to apply for these emergency loans - has only strengthened public opinion that the financial sector is again at fault for Greece's problems.

In principle, at least, the Greek rescue package differs from much of the state financial aid offered during the financial crisis.

Eurozone nations intend to borrow money, and then lend that money to Greece at a slightly higher rate of interest, which would still be more competitive than the rates offered directly to Athens on the open market.

Assuming heavily indebted Greece is one day in a position to repay the loans, the donors - including any banks that contribute - are set to make a slight profit.

It would go against the EU's Lisbon Treaty for countries to simply give money to Greece, as "bailouts" are not permitted under current eurozone rules.

msh/dpa/Reuters

Editor: Toma Tasovac

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