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Deputies return from Greece with tales of woe

The Local · 29 May 2011, 09:27

Published: 29 May 2011 09:27 GMT+02:00

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"I've clearly realized how Greece is making it really tough for its citizens" by implementing austerity measures, said Steffen Bilger, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's ruling Christian Democrats (CDU) who would not normally be suspected of mollycoddling what some here condemn as spendthrifts.

Merkel herself, who has come under fire within her own party for agreeing to bailouts worth tens of billions of euros for Greece, Ireland and Portugal, recently criticized southern Europeans for taking too many holidays.

"We cannot have a currency (the euro) with one person getting lots of holiday and another person very little. Long term this can't work," she said.

Last year, as the financial crisis battered Greece, the popular daily Bild went as far as to highlight a suggestion by a conservative politician that Athens sell off some of its many islands to help pay off its debts.

Bilger, who was part of an eight-member parliamentary delegation that held talks in Greece this month, said the country was on the ropes and that fellow European Union members could hardly expect it to do more to cut its sky-high public deficit.

A bailout for Greece was put in place a year ago by the EU, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, involving loans of €110 billion ($157 billion) over three years.

But there are now grave doubts whether Athens can meet its repayments and talk of a second bailout, or even a drastic debt restructuring, is rife.

"Through privatizations and further savings, they (the Greeks) can manage without further aid," Bilger suggested, but he acknowledged that current reforms were really hurting.

His CDU colleague Jürgen Klimke said he found Athens "in an awful state," adding that this was "far from being my best trip to Greece."

For Kai Gehring, a member of the opposition Greens whose party advocates restructuring the Greek debt, "I think it would be impossible to force new reforms" on them.

"Greece has really asked a lot of its citizens," the Green delegation representative told AFP.

He also deplored that the German press "does not really speak of the efforts made by the Greeks and of the reform programme which crushes both public spending and investment."

Delegation members agreed that public criticism of Greece in Germany had cast a cloud on bilateral relations.

"The German-Greek relationship is really in the dumps," Bilger said.

Story continues below…

Klimke agreed that they had heard "many things that we didn't like" during the trip including accusations of rampant corruption – German conglomerate Siemens was snared in a major Greek bribery scandal – to an alleged failure by Berlin to pay war reparations in full.

"In all our talks our, opposite numbers tried to pass some of the blame on us, us the European Union, but especially us Germany," he added.

But public opinion in Germany remains opposed to further aid for Greece.

"The argument according to which support (for Greek loan guarantees) doesn't cost the German taxpayer a thing simply isn't true," Kurt Lauk, head of the CDU's economic council, said last week.


The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

10:57 May 29, 2011 by harcourt
On the comment of Merkel saying that southern Europeans have too many holidays. Ask any American (and I'm not American) and they would say that Germans have too many holidays. So its all a matter of where you perceive it from
11:24 May 29, 2011 by mobiusro
I would say that the US have too few holidays. I do not believe that you are supporting the companies in giving their employees in the US only 2 weeks holidays a year (at least that's what people told me). When I first heard about it the first word that popped into my mind was "exploitation". That is totally not right imho.
13:04 May 29, 2011 by harcourt
When I hear the word "exploitation " in the context of employees I always think we are moving into political arguments. May I remind readers that the workforce in southern Europe is far more to the left of centre than the German workforce. So perhaps the southern Europeans would look at Germany and think that ITS employees are "exploited "

As I said before ( and that was my point) its where you perceive it from
15:08 May 29, 2011 by mike_1983
harcourt - but americans arent under the same financial system! europe must be brought into line!
18:13 May 29, 2011 by Chigozie Ohanweh
People should'nt be concerned about markel's comment on southern europeans holidays. rather suggest a way out of their financial mess.
18:36 May 29, 2011 by wood artist
It may well be that Greece has asked a lot of its citizens. I have no doubt they are feeling the pinch of the situation. They are likely "suffering."

However, that said, I think it's also worth while to remember exactly who put them in that situation. They need only look in the mirror.

In 1948-49, Berliners suffered through unimaginable privation during the blockade. They endured. They survived. The one difference was that they didn't put themselves in that place...Stalin did. They asked for help from the world, and the world responded. They accepted the limitations of what could be done, and carried on, hoping things would get better. Finally, Stalin gave up.

The Greek people may be suffering, but there are limits to what the world can do to fix it, and there should be. This is a mess of their own making, and helping them is one thing, bailing them out for all their bad decisions is something else. At this time, every country is struggling, for various reasons.

I'll bet the Libyans would gladly trade places with them. I'll bet the Syrians would gladly trade places with them. In those places, and many others, the people are trying to deal with horrendous issues, and a lot of them are dying for their cause. The Greeks need to put some things in perspective.

20:28 May 29, 2011 by belladons
All great comments especially coming from wood artist. I agree with the word exploitation being used in this context. Many in any population is exploited one way or another but many who believe in the vote in a democracy, then through natural selection in the political arena, a lot of these legal mafia types will be voted out. To do this, you must fully comprehend who you're voting for; how it effects the future of the nation, its national security, and most of all, with it acquire the opportunity for the citizen to prosper. The Greek government screwed the citizens of Greece. This is a major example of how governments exploit their citizens. Look at what's taking place throughout Northern Africa, the Middle East, and other parts of the world. Lastly, these austerity are last ditch efforts. If these measures fail, Greece will become a failed state.
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