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Europe

Opinion: Greece and everybody else

Germany's Bundestag approved extending the aid program for the EU's most complicated emergency case. But the Greek bailout is not just about money, says DW's Marcel Fürstenau.

When push comes to shove, you can rely on Wolfgang Schäuble - even if the German finance minister was a cause for irritation just a week ago when he dismissed as half-baked the Greek government's ideas on how to solve the debt crisis. By doing so, he showed Athens who is boss in Europe, namely Berlin. But he also snubbed the partners in other EU capitals, who feel passed over, and rightly so.

In the end, everyone gathered in Brussels and agreed on a face-saving compromise: more time for ailing Greece, but no new medicine in the form of additional billion-euro loans by the EU, ECB and IMF.

Bearing that in mind, it was logical that in the Bundestag, Schäuble fervently advocated an extension of the Greek bailout. People may accuse the Christian Democrat of overdoing his austerity course at home and abroad while tolerating social upheaval and dilapidated infrastructures - but Schäuble is a European by conviction who is seriously concerned about a wonderful project that was launched as the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951. This is why the politician, born during WWII and with the experience of 43 years in parliament under his belt, comes up with sentences like this: "Solidarity has something to do with reliability."

Sincere commitment

If anyone else had said those words, they would have sounded like a set phrase, but from the mouth of Wolfgang Schäuble, they are nothing short of a commitment. He is convinced that the union of 28, 19 of whom share a common currency, only faces a promising future "if we Europeans stand united."

Schäuble and his opponents in and outside of parliament don't see eye to eye on how to go about the task. With his pensively uttered "yes" to reforming Greek aid, Germany's supreme treasurer defied all the populists. Propagandists can be found everywhere: among politicians, in the media and in the streets.

Marcel Fürstenau

Marcel Fürstenau: Challenge lies ahead

The main challenge lies ahead, however. Schäuble and most German lawmakers have given the Greeks - and themselves - a little more wiggle room. The biggest problem child in the European family is bound to create problems for itself and everybody else for some time to come. Greece has become synonymous with the currency crisis. However, it is important to remember that the deficits in the EU are more than purely fiscal in nature. The EU can only regain credibility and attractiveness if the union as a whole becomes more transparent and democratic.

Violating European values

People suffer most severely as a result of financial misconduct. Greece just happens to be the most vicious example. Europe needs a stable social, but also moral, foundation. Currently, millions of people across the union have no economic prospects - a situation loaded with explosive power. But the long list of other breaches is just as worrying, including current restrictions on the media in Hungary. In Italy, the freedom of the press also suffered during the Berlusconi era. It would be interesting to find out how independent the judiciary in Rome was during that time.

As varied as the breaches of the Lisbon Treaty - adopted by all EU member states - may be, every single one undermines the common basis. That is why the union must act more consistently on problems other than financial misdeeds. Fifteen years ago Austria - a small country - was penalized with bilateral and diplomatic sanctions because the conservative People's Party (ÖVP) formed a coalition with the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ). Italy, which is much larger, has always been spared official ostracism even though the similarly far-right Lega Nord was repeatedly involved in coalition governments in Rome.

Solidarity is not a one-way street

Both governments were democratically legitimized. So it was wrong to criticize Austria back then. The new socialist-led government in Greece, which depends on backing from a rightwing fringe party, is also democratically legitimized. The German finance minister with his European bent of mind explicitly honored the Greek vote, tying it in with his key statement, "Solidarity has something to do with reliability."

That is true for Greece as much as for the EU's other 27 member states.

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