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Deutschland Bundestagsdebatte zu Griechenland Merkel und Schäuble
Image: Reuters/F. Bensch

Cold-hearted rescuers?

Richard Fuchs / ws
July 11, 2015

At a time when a possible Grexit is not yet averted, Germany's crisis diplomacy is being watched by many. Merkel's approach has made her the target of furious criticism. Are the Germans lacking compassion?


The graffiti expressed more than one Greek's view: sprayed red letters covering the logo of Greece's National Bank, changing the name from "Banque de Grece" to "Bank of Merkel."

It is a cry for help that could be interpreted in many ways. It is certainly a symbol of frustration and disappointment with Europe's bailout policy which, in the eyes of many Greeks, has only exacerbated the crisis.

Banks were rescued, but nothing has been done for the economic survival of low-income earners and unemployed people. This is the main accusation made against German Chancellor Angela Merkel. To many, Merkel represents a "policy of the iron hand" - imposing strict austerity measures in exchange for debt repayments. Some may call the approach calculated, even cold-hearted. Is Merkel really unable to muster compassion for Greeks' misery?

Alexis Tsipras / Parlament / Athen / Griechenland
Tsipras uses emotive language to condemn MerkelImage: Reuters

'A certain degree of sobriety'

Rainer Wend, president of the European Movement Germany, a German-affiliated network of special interest groups, dismissed the idea. "Those who know the chancellor are aware that she is, for better or worse, a very sober and restrained person," he told DW. Merkel's declaration to parliament a few days ago reinforced that impression. With a deadpan facial expression, she said: "If there will be a compromise in which the advantages outweigh the disadvantages - we will decide on that when the time comes."

Some Greek journalists in Berlin are utterly incensed by her dry tone. In one German government press conference, a Greek correspondent took a spokeswoman to task: "Don't you think it's a disgrace to talk in such sober terms about a humanitarian distaster in the middle of Europe?" The spokeswoman's reply could have come from the chancellor herself: "A certain degree of sobriety can be helpful in a situation which is far from easy for all involved, in order to make use of all the possibilities offered by the monetary union."

So, does the monetary union offer enough options? Up to now, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has left no doubt that the creditors' offers are simply unreasonable. When Merkel mentioned "precise" new proposals needed to meet creditors' demands, the Greek prime minister often responded with words like "blackmail" and "humiliation."

Politically motivated accusations

Rupert Neudeck, founder of humanitarian organization Cap Anamur, who has often criticized German governments for failing to provide help in humanitarian crises, will not accept Tsipras' terminology. Talking to DW, he defended Germany's policy: "Out of its own resources, the German government sent a state secretary to Greece time and again who had orders to find out about people in distress - such emergencies did exist two years ago already - and, perhaps, do something about it."

According to Neudeck, the rhetoric of the Greek government is an unsuitable attempt to blame someone else for its own faults: "It is politically motivated: they are at odds with a political opponent, and they're passing the buck, accusing their opponent of having no compassion, no empathy."

That strategy does not work for Social Democrat Carsten Schneider either. The deputy party leader and finance spokesman appreciates Merkel's sober approach to the Greek crisis. He would be among those who have to vote on a third aid package for Greece in the German parliament.

Prof. Dr. Christoph Lütge TU München
Christoph Lütge lectures on ethicsImage: TU München

Financial aid, Schneider affirms, will only be forthcoming if there are adequate compensatory measures: "There will be no blank check, because the faith I had in this government, initially at least, is close to zero."

Services rendered

In the eyes of many Syriza supporters, this kind of statement indicates how little solidarity there is between member states. They believe that the requested budget cuts led to imposing a reform agenda on Greece, which then exacerbated the crisis.

"The realm of ethics has the same rules: you cannot ask for help permanently without eventually offering a return favor," Christoph Lütge, professor of business ethics at Munich's Technical University (TUM), told DW. Solidarity with Greece could, therefore, amount to helping the country as quickly as possible to become competitive again.

The Greek prime minister believes that in order to return to growth, a debt haircut to Greece's public finances is necessary. This is a proposal that has been rejected by Merkel a number of times already - most recently during her state visit to Bosnia-Herzegovina. It is amazing to see that this issue appears to be apt to make the chancellor, who is usually so restrained, lose her composure - she says no emphatically. In the eyes of Wend this is the only big mistake in Merkel's Greece policy to date.

"In my view, emotions in Germany are shown at the wrong time occasionally," he says. According to him, the prospect of a debt haircut for Greece could boost the chances for a successful deal at the EU special summit this weekend. And a bridge could be built between Merkel's sober, technocratic bailout strategy and Prime Minister Tsipras' hot-tempered alternative. That would be a desirable outcome for Europe and especially Greece.

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