For Christoph Zenker, the real problem with European lenders offering Greece a new bailout deal is what happens once the money gets to Greece. Who, he asked, will ensure it won't go to waste. “In the end, the taxpayers will pay, not the banks,” said the 55-year-old owner of Pension am Jakobsplatz, a small bed and breakfast in Munich. “All the money we will send [to Greece] will just diffuse into the corruption that's there, and it won’t help very much."
Opinion polls suggest that the German public generally opposes leniency toward the Greeks and commiseration with the country’s financial woes. But interviews with Germans Monday underscored far more nuanced attitudes and a broad array of opinions about the impact of the Greek bailout on German lives. For many Germans, there was a sense of uncertainty about how the deal would ultimately play out.
“It can’t be that simple. It can’t be that ‘Greek people are lazy’ or ‘the European Union wants to destroy Greece,'” said Thomas Lehner, 26 of Munich who is a business school student in the U.K., in a telephone interview. “It worries me that there are those strong positions.”
European leaders negotiated for 17 hours before arriving at an agreement early Monday to offer Greece a bailout deal of 86 billion euros, or $96 million, in exchange for strict austerity measures that included trimming pensions, raising value-added taxes and privatizing Greek assets. The Greek Parliament has to approve the deal and implement several new laws by Wednesday in order receive the funds, even as some European leaders have little faith in the country’s ability to uphold those measures and ultimately deflate what critics describe as a bloated public sector mired in wasteful spending and corruption.
Emotions have run high ever since the deal was announced, with the hashtag #ThisIsACoup going viral on social media as many decried the terms of the deal imposed by German negotiators as unnecessarily severe and intended to dethrone the leftist government in Athens. But all the reactions to such a complex agreement could hardly be encapsulated in a single hashtag.
— Jared Goyette (@JaredGoyette) July 13, 2015
Public opinion surveys suggest that Germans are largely not on Greece’s side in this crisis. In January, poll data showed that 61 percent of Germans favored the “Grexit,” or a Greek exit from the eurozone. Roughly 68 percent opposed debt forgiveness and 80 percent favored stern austerity measures. In a more recent poll, 10 percent of Germans said they supported more concessions to Greece, the Wall Street Journal reported.
But perhaps both Germans, as well as other Europeans, ought to take the long view when considering the questions of whether and under what conditions Greece deserved its third bailout in five years, several Germans interviewed Monday said. Rather than complaining about who would be paying for such a deal -- European taxpayers or banks -- many urged critics to focus on correcting the system that generated the crisis in the first place. Others questioned Greece’s spending habits, arguing that focusing on the debt payments rather than falling back on nationalist diatribes would be a more effective use of time.
“Greece has to come up with some kind of way to sustainably reform their government, their economy, their public spending,” Lehner said. He said he could not decide whether the austerity measures were justified, but that “money-saving plans” were certainly part of the solution, as long as they were conducted thoughtfully.
“The real problem is a lack of analysis, of understanding what caused this problem,” Lehner concluded. “But in my opinion, it feels that there is no action plan that actually addresses the underlying issues."
— Daily Mail Online (@MailOnline) July 13, 2015
Amid so much uncertainty, skepticism towards the effectiveness of such a deal was inevitable. Viktoria, a working student (who declined to give her last name) getting her master’s in management at the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, was skeptical that the bailout terms could bring change within Greece any more than previous deals had. “I don’t think anything is going to change in the future,” she said.
Still, she said she did not find austerity measures imposed on Greece to be too severe. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was “trying hard not to give away our money for free,” Viktoria said. In the meantime, she questioned why people were so concerned about their taxes being funneled to Greece when she saw evidence of wasted taxpayer dollars just about everywhere else, pointing to unnecessary construction and overpriced infrastructure projects.
Some Germans cast Greeks as lazy people who were leeching off the hard work of others. “The Greeks have been living beyond their means for years,” a man in Osnabrück, northwestern Germany, told the Local, a German news site. "The people there simply don't work enough. I'd see them crowding cafes at four o'clock in the morning.”
One 63-year-old Berlin man offered more sympathy, however, telling the Local that while Greece seemed broadly against the European Union, it needed to stay in the eurozone. “Debt relief is the only possible choice,” he said. “They are an import nation, they need a currency they can exchange -- that means euros or dollars.”