Germany feels vindicated over tough stance

Tue, Jun 19, 2012, 01:00

ONE OF Germany’s favourite political cliches is that “post-election is pre-election” – meaning that, far from deciding anything, voters often leave everything open for the next time around.

That cliche coloured the mood in Berlin yesterday: vindication that its refusal to throw Athens a bone before election day had not made things any worse, combined with a sober realisation that the result would not make dealing with Athens much easier.

Chancellor Angela Merkel decided to keep out of sight on Sunday before flying out at midnight to the G20 summit in Mexico – a decision she may regret in hindsight.

Filling the gap, her foreign minister Guido Westerwelle went on television to suggest that, although the contents of Greece’s EU-IMF programme was fixed, the timing was not.

He repeated himself on public radio yesterday: “We are ready to talk about the timeframe.”

Furious Berlin officials went into damage limitation mode, insisting Mr Westerwelle – a spent force in German domestic politics – was talking about how to make up for slippage in Greece’s programme implementation after a six-week inter-election standstill.

“We have to see what comes out of the coalition talks in Athens and then the upcoming troika visit,” one government official said. “Even if there were more time on offer, it would make no sense to say that now.”

Berlin is anxious not to discuss programme renegotiation until Athens coalition talks conclude, for fear of driving up the cost to German taxpayers and undermining the long-term goal of programme sustainability. “If you don’t have that, everything is off,” a finance ministry source said.

Germany’s deputy finance minister Steffen Kampeter was dispatched on damage-limitation duty to insist Berlin was not going soft on Greece.

“It’s a matter for all Europeans, but for Greeks in particular to make sure we have not just a day but an extended period of stability,” he said. “I am confident that both sides are aware of their responsibility.”

The message from Berlin’s bunker-like finance ministry: we are ready to talk to Greece but, for now, the ball is Athens’s court.

Mr Westerwelle appeared later, insisting that Greece’s EU-IMF programme “remains as agreed”.

“If the impression was created that I was ready to make concessions on the necessity of the Greek reform programme, then that is completely wrong,” he said, warning of a knock-on effect in other programme countries. “Then other countries will come too, we couldn’t resist them as well.”

With Dr Merkel out of the country, the chaotic communication continued when an influential business spokesman of the ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) demanded that pressure on Athens be increased.

“If the Greeks want to stay in, and have decided with a tight margin to do so, then Europe has to stand firm and say, ‘enough of this sloppiness’,” said Kurt Lauk, president of the CDU business council. “They don’t need more time, they need to get themselves in order. More time means more sloppiness.”