How Germany is reacting to Greece’s confrontational new government

For the chancellor, a Greek tragedy.
For the chancellor, a Greek tragedy.
Image: Reuters/Fabrizio Bensch
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Greece’s election has sent shockwaves throughout Europe—and especially through Germany. The euro zone’s biggest economy and paymaster has reluctantly footed a big bill for bailing out Greece and other euro members, extending financial aid in return for strict and unpopular austerity measures.

The voters who backed Syriza, the big winners in the Greek election, responded to the party’s demonization of Germany and its chancellor, Angela Merkel. Syriza wants to end what it describes as German-imposed austerity and restructure the debt that Greece owes to international lenders following a series of rescues.

In the run-up to yesterday’s vote, Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras even wrote an open letter to German voters in the business newspaper Handelsblatt, saying that the loans will never be repaid and calling German policies “fiscal waterboarding.” He added:

The insistence in these dead-end policies, and in the denial of simple arithmetic, costs the German taxpayer dearly while, at once, condemning to a proud European nation to permanent indignity.

To make matters worse, the far-left Syriza surprised many by apparently forming a coalition with the rightwing Independent Greeks, which has nothing in common except a pathological opposition to the terms of Greece’s bail-out. For example, the Independent Greeks have strong links with the Greek Orthodox Church; Tsipras is agnostic.

The German reaction

Although she hasn’t yet commented herself, a spokesperson for Merkel reiterated the chancellor’s defense of her policies. The country’s economic recovery requires “sticking to its previous commitments,” the chancellor’s spokesperson said (link in German).

Elmar Brok, a member of the European Parliament for Merkel’s CDU party who sits on the Foreign Affairs Committee, rejected the idea of writing down Greece’s debt (link in German). He added, as German politicians often do, that Greeks made their bed and must lie in it: “I know of no country in Europe in which ordinary citizens have been so deceived by the political and economic class.”

“The Greeks have the right to vote for whom they want,” said Hans-Peter Friedrich of the CSU (link in German), a sister party of the CDU. “We have the right to no longer finance Greek debt. The Greeks must now pay the consequences and cannot saddle German taxpayers with them.”

Jens Weidmann, president of Germany’s central bank, said that debt relief would only grant Greece “a short pause for breath.” He added: “I hope the new government won’t call into question what is expected and what has already been achieved.”

But others not wedded to the political orthodoxy welcomed the news. Bernd Riexinger, one of the leaders of the German left wing party Die Linke, said that Syriza’s victory “means the beginning of a new politics not just in Greece but in the rest of Europe.” In a tweet, he hailed Syriza’s “historic victory” as a rejection of “Merkel’s destruction”:

Bernd Lucke of the upstart euroskeptic political party Alternative for Germany took a similar line to his ideological opponent, with a twist. His party has made electoral gains by campaigning for bailed-out countries like Greece to leave the euro. Thus, he supports Syriza’s plan to renege on some of its debts—”so far, Syriza is absolutely right,” he said after the election (link in German).

But debt relief can come only if Greece is booted out of the euro zone: “The money is lost anyway,” Lucke said.