Merkel cautious on study showing Germans less wealthy than neighbours

Report suggests median Cypriot wealth five times higher than German equivalent

German chancellor Angela Merkel speaks to Volker Kauder, chairman of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group in the Bundestag, prior to debates over EU finanical aid to Cyprus at the Bundestag on Thursday. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

German chancellor Angela Merkel speaks to Volker Kauder, chairman of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group in the Bundestag, prior to debates over EU finanical aid to Cyprus at the Bundestag on Thursday. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Sat, Apr 20, 2013, 06:00

German chancellor Angela Merkel has urged caution in interpreting “distorted” ECB statistics that suggest Germans are less wealthy than many euro crisis neighbours.

An ECB survey suggests average wealth in private Cypriot households was almost three times that in Germany. Median net wealth, the line between the top and bottom half of earners, lay at €51,400 in Germany – the lowest among euro zone countries surveyed.

The survey of 62,000 households in 15 of 17 euro countries suggested the median net wealth in Greek and Cypriot households was respectively twice and five times the German level.

Issued last week, the survey forms the basis of the cover story in this week’s Der Spiegel showing a man on a donkey – both with black boxes over their eyes – under the heading The Poverty Lie: How Europe’s Crisis Countries Hide their Wealth.


Wealthy citizens
The magazine suggested it was time to ask wealthy citizens in crisis countries – rather than taxpayers in Germany – to finance the cost of the euro crisis.

The ECB report has been grist to the mill of Germany’s bailout critics and prompted Chancellor Angela Merkel to step in yesterday.“At a purely statistical level, households in countries like Spain, Cyprus and Greece are richer than us but careful: the statistics are distorted,” she told the Bild daily.

“In these countries many people own property as their pension, in Germany there is a strong pension system and high pension entitlements are not included in the figures, neither is property Germans own abroad.”

ECB officials have pointed to a long list of caveats at the start of the report, such as a note that data was collected in two batches, 2009-2010 and 2011-2012.


Real assets
“The differences in reference years can be particularly relevant for the values of financial and real assets, many of which have declined during the financial and economic crisis,” the ECB adds. Ireland and Estonia did not participate in the survey.The survey prompted a vociferous reaction from the Frankfurter Allgemeine . A staunch critic of euro bailouts, it accused the ECB of sitting on the report until the Cyprus rescue was agreed.

Halfway through its “poverty lie” cover story, Der Spiegel conceded it is “not surprising” that Germans have lower wealth levels despite higher incomes because “they think nothing of renting expensive apartments and like to go twice or three times a year on holiday”.