Going into Election, Greece on Collision Course with Germany

The Germans are running out of patience but most Greeks simply don’t believe their threats.

German chancellor Angela Merkel arrives in Paris, France, January 11
German chancellor Angela Merkel arrives in Paris, France, January 11 (Bundesregierung)

As the anti-austerity left looks likely to come to power in Greece later this month, polls show many Germans are running out of patience. An ARD-Deutschlandtrend poll found that 61 percent would want Greece to leave the euro if it did not stick to the terms of its bailout.

The far-left Syriza party proposes to tear up Greece’s bailout agreements, stop budget consolidation and write off part of the country’s debt.

A Kapa poll published by the To Vima newspaper on Sunday gave Syriza 28.1 percent support against 25.5 percent for Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ conservative New Democracy. Another survey, by Alco, that was published in the tabloid Proto Thema, gave the two parties 31.2 and 28 percent support, respectively.

Elections were called after Samaras failed to win a majority for his presidential candidate in a parliamentary vote last month.

Although the Greek economy started improving last year and the government’s shortfall — excluding one-off expenditures to recapitalize its banks — is now below the European Union’s 3 percent treaty limit, down from nearly 16 percent at the height of the crisis in 2009, unemployment remains high. Many Greeks attribute the malaise to the austerity measures that have been enacted at the insistence of other European countries, particularly Germany.

German officials warned Greeks against voting the far left into office and challenging the bailout pacts by leaking to the magazine Der Spiegel earlier this month that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government no longer believes their withdrawal from the eurozone would be impossible to manage.

According to Der Spiegel, the Germans believe enough progress has been made since the height of the European debt crisis in 2012 to allow a country to exit the currency union.

Since 2010, Greece has received €240 billion in financial support from other European countries and the International Monetary Fund.

The bailouts were conditioned on budget consolidation and liberal economic reforms. Greece repeatedly missed its targets and deadlines for both. Syriza pledges to reverse the program altogether.

Most Greeks dismiss the German threats. A GPO survey shown on Mega TV last week found 52.6 percent of Greeks saying other eurozone governments would give in to their demands for debt relief. A Palmos poll for TVXS found that half of Greeks believe their bank deposits will be safe if Syriza wins the election next week.

Greece previously restructured its privately-held debt in 2012. 90 percent of its debt is now owed to official creditors, mainly other eurozone governments.

68 percent of Germans reject another reduction of Greek debt, the ARD-Deutschlandtrend poll found.

Chancellor Merkel herself said last week she had “no doubt whatsoever” that Greece would honor its commitments — although she conditioned continued European “solidarity” on the Greeks doing “their bit.”

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