Chancellor Angela Merkel is perhaps the major player at the table in the Greek debt game. Now the cards have to be remixed. Merkel and her Greek counterpart Tsipras seem best suited to this task, says Marcel Fürstenau.
For those who believe the European Union is nothing more than a bureaucratic monster, the fate of Greece is probably of little consequence. Those who believe the common currency to be a cardinal sin in monetary policy terms are praying for the definitive collapse of the Greek economy. They hope that that the euro will be pulled into the abyss with it. That's how cynics, nationalists and opportunists might view the situation.
Speculative sketches of what that might mean for the EU as a whole and its individual members have been daubed on the walls ever financial crisis some five years ago. The problem is that they're nothing but speculation; there are no certainties.
However, the consequences of the crisis and efforts to resolve it have indeed been real. Greece is impoverished, embittered and feels that its honor has been slighted. The creditor nations, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund are almost at the end of their tethers. This feeling has become more prevalent since the socialist-dominated left-right government came to power in Athens.
The center left and conservatives who presided over decades of financial mismanagement are no longer there to be held to account. And looking back does no good anyway. What's needed are practical and fair solutions that are in people's best interests.
Playing poker with the past
The fate of the European project is more tightly connected to Greece than many believe. If it were not, the regular Brussels summit meetings would have long since ceased. However, the players at the European poker table all know that, in the worst case, everything could be gambled away. The bankruptcy of Greece could simultaneously mean multi-million euro loan defaults. Among the creditors, Germany would have the most debt to write off. Angela Merkel does well to reach out to Tsipras. And the reverse is also true. If the impression left by their first joint meeting in Berlin did not deceive, there is good will on both sides.
If indeed, it is not so much what you say but the way you say it, then at least their press gathering sounded somewhat harmonious. Both Merkel and Tsipras paid tribute to the friendly relations between the people of both countries since the end of the Second World War. That Greece should make financial claims at this point from Nazi crimes is not something that chimes with the Chancellery.
Tsipras did stress in Berlin though, that it was primarly an ethical and moral question, rather than a financial one. To interpret that as a waiver from Greece on reparations would be at best naïve, in particular concerning the compulsory loan that Hitler's Germany forced Greece into granting. But perhaps through this manner of wording there might be movement when it comes to the big picture: a long-term solution to the debt crisis, involving historical responsibilities.
Merkel and Germany as trump
The German chancellor always thinks a step ahead and she knows the government in Athens needs more time and more breathing space. Tsipras, meanwhile, knows that Merkel - because of the economic and polticial power that Germany has in Europe - is the ultimate trump in the poker game over Greece's future, and indeed Europe's.
Historical stereotypes must therefore be set aside said Tsipras, quite appropriately. But clichés can also be useful: for example, the idea that the weather is always good in Greece. Tsipras joked at the end of the press conference that he had brought the spring to Berlin. The climate between the two countries should remain warm, he said. We should keep our fingers crossed.
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