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Angela Merkel Augen geschlossen
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Wolfgang Kumm

CDU hardliners still unhappy with Greek deal

Ben Knight
July 13, 2015

Angela Merkel came out of the Brussels bailout talks the clear winner, having forced her Greek counterpart to concede nearly everything. But for many in her party, even that was a compromise too far.


The deal is done, and everyone seems to agree that German Chancellor Angela Merkel won on nearly all points. As the bleary-eyed leaders stumbled out into the Brussels dawn on Monday, European Union officials were quoted as saying that Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had been treated to "mental waterboarding" during the talks, and appeared "like a beaten dog."

Tsipras was said to be privately worried about the reception awaiting him back in Athens, where he will have to sell an austerity package which he had been elected to reject back in January, and which the Greek people emphatically dismissed again in a referendum a week ago.

Logically, then, German politicians should be delighted with the outcome of the Brussels talks. Assuming that Greece's parliament passes the draconian measures the EU is demanding, Merkel ought to have no trouble getting the support of her Christian Democratic Union so that she can persuade the Bundestag to let her continue bailout talks.

Brüssel EU Regierungsgipfel zu Griechenland Merkel Tsipras Hollande
Tsipras is said to have come out of the talks 'a beaten dog'Image: picture-alliance/dpa/O. Hoslet

"I'm not so sure," says Olaf Boehnke, head of the Berlin office of the European Council on Foreign Relations think tank. "I was in the CDU parliamentary party in the Bundestag this morning, and it's an unbelievably emotional issue there."

For many in Merkel's conservative party, the thought of giving Greece any kind of bailout at all is complete anathema. "The people there are sick of it," Boehnke told DW. "The way that Tsipras has acted has annoyed a lot of people. A lot of the party are saying we are not going to play along."

No more rationality

Like everywhere in Europe, the debate in Germany has turned so weary and bitter that what would actually be best for the Greek people or even the European economy no longer seems relevant - it has become a purely emotional issue built on simplistic moralizing. This seems to Boehnke particularly true for many members of the CDU.

"Five years ago we were talking about the euro crisis, now we're talking about the Greek crisis, but it's exactly the same problem," said Boehnke. "We're talking about southern European states that have got into debt to northern European banks."

Such general economic terms have long since been replaced by nationalistic rhetoric - both in Berlin and Athens. The latest cover of newsmagazine "Der Spiegel," showing a caricature of a fat Greek man dancing with a glass of raki below the subheading "Our Greeks - Getting closer to a strange people," typifies what Boehnke sees as the stupid level the debate has descended to.

"We call it the Greek crisis now because it's much easier to create a bogeyman. It's like we're in the football European Championships or something," says Boehnke. "What hasn't come through in Greece enough is that the problem was also caused by many incompetent Greek governments. And in Germany it's not mentioned at all that, 'okay, it's our fault too, because we made an economic currency union that created a lot of advantages for Germany, and German banks did unbelievably good business with credit loans, but we paid no heed to what would happen in other countries.' At the end of the day, we all created this situation together."

What now?

Given the entrenchment, Boehnke thinks that Merkel may have to rely on votes from the opposition to get the bailout package through, which would be a serious dent in her image as a universally-admired conservative leader.

But whether the German opposition parties will vote for the bailout package is also open to debate. On Monday morning, they were quickest to condemn the terms that Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble had imposed on Greece.

"Torture not unity," tweeted Left party co-chairman Bernd Riexinger. "Schäuble blackmails Greece and damages Europe," before adding, "Re-found the EU, rebellion of the Europeans now!"

Green party leader Simone Peters was less militant, but no less outraged: "The German government's negotiating strategy has taken an axe to the reputation and founding principles of Europe, and damaged Europe significantly."

Some in the Left party also called on their political cousins Syriza to reject the austerity measures that Tsipras had agreed to. "Europe has given Greece over 300 billion euros, and none of it has gone to any Greek woman or man, but has rescued banks," the Left's parliamentary leader Dietmar Bartsch told broadcaster WDR 2. "And the country has fallen further into poverty. We need a change of course."

SPD: Confused and irritated

Much slower to react were the Social Democrats, the junior partner in Merkel's coalition, whose leader Sigmar Gabriel has attracted some mockery for sounding noticeably more hawkish than even the chancellor.

On Monday, Gabriel took several hours to offer an opinion on the deal made in Brussels, and then called the agreement hashed out overnight in Brussels a "good result." He admitted that Tsipras had taken a "big step" toward Greece's creditors, but insisted this was necessary. "It won't work without these tough conditions," he said.

"I am sure that we have now cleared the path toward overcoming this crisis," Gabriel added.

Deutschland Bundestagsdebatte zu Griechenland in Berlin
Sigmar Gabriel, suddenly the biggest hawk in the roomImage: Getty Images/AFP/O. Andersen

The SPD's position in the affair has become increasingly uncomfortable, with many pundits wondering why Gabriel had taken to supporting an austerity program that did not at all square with the party's principles. "The SPD has lost its Social Democratic orientation," the Left's Riexinger said in a Monday press conference. "Now it stands mainly for bank bailouts, austerity politics and social disintegration."

This isn't lost on some in the SPD. The party's former Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück, who was in Schäuble's seat when the initial financial crisis struck in 2008, has also been critical of Merkel's hard-line attitude to Greece. After all, Germany still has a relatively generous welfare state and controls on free-market measures like Sunday trading - the very thing it has ordered Greece to relax. As Steinbrück recently told independent online journalist Tilo Jung, if the measures being imposed on Greece were introduced in Germany, "there would be hell to pay."

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