Tony Paterson: The view from Germany

'If they don't obey the rules, we'll want the Deutschmark back'
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The Independent Online

Germans have certainly reacted angrily to the European Union's deal to help out financially stricken Greece. Some commentators have even suggested that a bailout will spark calls for the scrapping of the euro and a return to the country's once-treasured Deutsche Mark.

"No money for the bankrupt Greeks!" was the blunt headline in the mass-circulation Bild newspaper. It accused Chancellor Angela Merkel of attempting to play down what would inevitably be Germany's large contribution to any rescue package, given that it is Europe's largest economy.

In a reference to the Maastricht Treaty, Bild pointed out: "European Union countries are protected against paying off the debts of other member states by the so-called 'bailout clause'."

Holger Steltzner, a commentator on Germany's conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper, went a step further. "We signed a treaty which expressly forbids one member of the currency union paying off the debts of another. If this central commandment is not adhered to then the Germans will want the Mark back."

Over the past fortnight, the German media have carried lengthy reports about the extent of everyday Greek corruption. On the streets of Berlin yesterday, the news that Germany would probably emerge as the biggest contributor to any bailout was received with alarm.

Gregor Laupmann, 56, who runs a Berlin export company, said: "The corruption in Greece appears to be endemic. Why wasn't this problem seen to before they joined the EU?" he asked. "If we have to bail them out, then it should only be done with the toughest anti-corruption conditions attached ."

The prospect of EU debt aid for Greece has come at a difficult moment for Mrs Merkel and her government. Her ruling alliance of conservatives and liberals, once dubbed the "dream coalition" is mired in a seemingly endless dispute over tax cuts and its popularity is in steep decline.

Added to those woes is a record €100bn (£87bn) budget deficit, with fewer people to pay off the national debt. Last month the government announced that the population had dropped below 82 million last year for the first time since 1995.

Any rescue package for Greece would also be personally problematic for Mrs Merkel, a politician who derives much of her popularity from championing Europe. She would find herself forced to make a highly unpopular move in Europe's name.

Her awareness of this dilemma, and her coalition partners' insistence that there should be no direct financial help for Greece, is one of the reasons why the EU has so far baulked at the idea of direct financial help for Greece and offered only promises of help instead.

Despite Germany's considerable reluctance to give up the Mark a decade ago, the euro has since become almost universally accepted as a boon by most of the population. Its performance against the US dollar and its stability have exceeded most expectations.

Germans are now as wedded to the euro as they were to the Mark. As Bild said in an editorial yesterday: "The EU has a major interest in easing the financial imbalance in Greece as quickly as possible. Its debt crisis has caused heavy turbulence on the markets – the value of the euro has plummeted."

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