Opinion: Germans keep their cool when it comes to Greece | Opinion | DW | 17.07.2015
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Opinion: Germans keep their cool when it comes to Greece

Can Greece still be saved? Germany's government wants to try and the Bundestag is on board. Still, no one is quite ready to charge into the breach for Greece, says DW's Sabine Kinkartz.

It was the much-maligned finance minister who best summed up the parliamentary debate surrounding a third Greek bailout package. "How can it be worked out, so that it works out?" asked Wolfgang Schäuble. The sentence, at first seemingly wobbly, does a good job of spelling out the dilemma faced by all those who really want to help Greece get up and running. The tough questions faced by the people who want to ensure not only that money starts coming out of ATMs again, but also that Greece repays its debts to the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund.

Schäuble's skepticism is justified. Greece is not a functioning state. It has not been one for as long as it has been in the monetary union. But reforming the country with a sledgehammer while at the same time trying to restructure it financially with inhumanely burdensome requirements is like trying to drive a square peg into a round hole. Whoever wants to play in the eurozone has to fulfill certain terms. That's true. But pulling yourself up by the bootstraps under these conditions will hopelessly overwhelm the Greek people.

The unbeloved Grexit

Schäuble knows that. He says it tortures him, and that he struggles in his search for an answer that he knows will work. In his opinion, one potentially promising route would be to let Greece temporarily leave the eurozone. It is an idea that he arrived at with a cool and rational head. His feelings were doubtlessly telling him something very different. Schäuble is a passionate European and unity means a lot to him. But he knows that a passionate heart will lead nowhere at this juncture.

It's bad luck for Schäuble then, that plan B, the Grexit - even a temporary one, the functioning of which would also have to clarified - does not seem popular enough to garner a majority of votes in the EU, at least not at the moment. Who knows what things will look like in two weeks - or in a month. What will happen if gaps open during bailout negotiations for European Stability Mechanism (ESM) funds? If discrepancies between lenders' requirements and Greece's ability to meet creditors' demands become irreconcilable?

An anemic chancellor

All of that will have to be determined at some point. Yet most German lawmakers want to give it a try and they know that a majority of citizens, even if it is a thin majority, are behind them. Humanity was the motivator that spurred the initiation of yet a third bailout package, as German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel emphasized. The head of the Social Democratic Party, Gabriel is also vice chancellor, and during this memorable special parliamentary session he delivered a speech that would have been becoming of the chancellor. Angela Merkel, on the other hand, appeared as she always appears: reasonable, unexcited, cool, impersonal. Even sentences containing words like, "drama," "chaos," or "violence" come across dull and apathetic when she delivers them.

Things sounded different coming out of Gabriel's mouth. He gives the Greeks a face when he speaks of neighbors who we like to visit on vacation, or who live and make their homes here in Germany by the thousands. He says we cannot leave these people to suffer and recalls images of starving children, begging pensioners and soup kitchens. At the same time he emphasizes that the country's structures must be dramatically reformed, and that corruption, tax evasion and patronage only lead to destruction.

What's next?

No one can say with any degree of seriousness or certainty whether the third bailout package will be a success. Work on it is just starting. It will be a difficult road, one which may still end up seeing Greece leave the eurozone, in the so-called Grexit. But if that turns out to be the case, it would be unfair to give the Greeks all the blame. Those bearing the most responsibility are the ones who introduced the euro without creating a true economic and social union. But that is old news. Today we have to deal with the consequences of those decisions. As serious as they are.