Chancellor 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 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.
“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 it no longer seems relevant what would actually be best for the Greek people, or even the European economy – 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Such general economic terms have long since been replaced by nationalistic rhetoric – both in Berlin and Athens.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.”
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 Is 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” towards its 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 towards overcoming this crisis,” Gabriel added.
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.”
…Greeks react with cautious mix of dismay and relief
Greeks begin the new week weary after following a crucial nighttime meeting to decide Greece’s fate in the eurozone. Many are relieved to see the threat of a “Grexit” reduced, but remain anxious, says DW’s Nick Barnet.
It was a long Sunday night in Athens as many stayed up till morning to await the decision of the European leaders’ summit. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras submitted to the demands of creditors for more austerity, going against the principles that brought him to power five months ago.
As anonymous sources leaked bits of information from the talks, including more demands on top of those Tsipras presented, many Greeks began to show their dismay through social media, putting the hashtag #ThisIsACoup at the top of Greece’s Twitter trends for several hours.
The week began with the streets of Athens still quiet for a Monday. Aside from tourists and those who are lucky enough to still have jobs, many have stayed home, being extra careful to spend as little cash as possible, with capital controls continuing to limit ATM withdrawals to 60 euros per day, and many only dispensing 50 euros due to lack of small bills.
The talks in Brussels ended by mid-morning and a deal was announced. But many already expected the result and reacted with either disappointment, relief or a mixture of both.
“This is a horrible deal; Tsipras just handed them a blank check. Who gave him the right to hand us over like this?” says Maria Roumeliotaki, a pensioner who lives in a working-class neighbourhood in Athens. Maria’s pension has been reduced twice, down to 540 euros a month. With a mortgage, food, utilities, and several grandchildren she’s taking care of, she’s struggled to make ends meet ever since the cuts began.
She believes Tsipras should have walked away from the summit, even if it meant Greece exiting the euro. “We won’t have any money left to pay for anything. They won’t be happy until they take everything from us,” she laments.
Dimitris Ranios, who is also a pensioner, says he wants Greece to stay in the euro, but is worried about the political implications of this new deal. “Tsipras will have problems after this is over because of dissent in his own party. I hope we don’t go back to elections again,” he says.
Youthful optimism – and anger
Young Greeks continue to be among the hardest hit as the Greek crisis drags on. Many see more of the same as a disappointment – as something that will continue dwindling their hopes for a better future.
But some are still optimistic. Kostas Albanoudis, a 20-year-old from Thessaloniki who just finished his compulsory military service, has been keeping a close eye on the latest developments. He says things are difficult but he still has hope for the future. “If we have patience, courage and strength, we can get through this. Why? Because this is Greece, that’s why.”
Other young people, such as 21-year-old Fotis from the city of Volos, are angered by the prospect of yet another bailout loan memorandum laced with even more austerity, especially after a referendum was held to denounce precisely that. “The referendum turned out to be just for show,” he says. “They’re making fools out of us. We should be united in resisting these bailouts; only then will they cease to exist.”
Anxious times for small businesses
Small businesses are a big part of the Greek economy. Many of them have been hit hard in recent years, but especially so since the banks closed and capital controls were implemented in the past two weeks. Tax increases that are part of a new bailout proposal for Greece stand to hit the income of many small businesses across the country.
Christos and his wife Betty own a small café in the central Athenian neighbourhood of Exarchia and also stayed up late into the night, listening to the radio and waiting to hear whether or not European leaders would come to an agreement to keep Greece in the euro. “I am happy that Tsipras fought hard for the last five months not just for a deal but for some sort of solution. He unfortunately came up against a wall,” said Christos, as he opened up his café for the day while listening to the radio for the latest updates.
“I feel this is a bad deal, and many do,” he adds. “But many of us here in Greece have become numb, and don’t feel much different than we did before this European summit. This deal had measures, but in a negotiation, concessions are to be expected.”
Panayiotis, who owns a small organic grocery store in Athens, lays blame on both decision-makers and the Greek people, saying: “Despite what happens, we need to stop acting like children; we’re adults aren’t we?”
He hopes more level-headed thinking will get Greece out of the economic doldrums and bring back the hope for prosperity again. “I hope we never find ourselves in this situation again to be so in debt and have creditors have so much power over us. We have to be strong and get ourselves out of this mess now.
Whether or not the Greek government can survive the mounting pressure of passing tough reform bills and quelling internal dissent within the party, many are happy that it appears Greece may be saved from the brink of total collapse, but at the same time feel disillusioned that Tsipras was unable to get a solution to the economic decline that resulted during the last two bailout loan agreements.