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How will Germany react to the Greek vote?

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How will Germany react to the Greek vote?
Angela Merkel has some more sleepless nights ahead of her. Photo: DPA
10:35 CEST+02:00
Now that Greeks have voted against accepting tough austerity conditions in return for a fresh tranche of bailout cash, The Local asked Professor Michael Wohlgemuth of Open Europe Berlin how Chancellor Angela Merkel, other political leaders and the German public may respond.

What is Angela Merkel's next move?

Throughout the eurozone crisis, Angela Merkel has presented herself and Germany as the force holding everything together.

She has soldiered on through endless rounds of late-night Brussels talks, harsh lampooning of herself and her ministers in the foreign press, and growing unpopularity of bailouts for Greece at home.

Now, with the hard-won legacy of an intact eurozone under threat as never before and big players like Italy questioning German leadership, it may actually be time for Merkel to take a back seat – at least in public.

"Merkel may want to hide behind some others this time," Professor Wohlgemuth said.

"Other countries have already declared there will be no way they will negotiate something more favourable than the previous proposals."

Poorer countries like Slovakia, or those that dutifully went through their own rounds of painful austerity and have emerged from the other side such as Portugal, will be loth to give Greece clemency.

And that will suit Merkel's Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble – who for Greeks has long been the real villain of the piece – just fine.

"Schäuble, much more than Merkel, is now very angry, very bitter, and may not be willing to propose a third package to the Bundestag [German parliament]," said Wohlgemuth.

What are Germans thinking?

Any new bailout plan put before MPs might be likely to fail as parliamentarians seek to bolster their chances at elections in two years' time.

While an ARD survey showed last week that 60 percent of Germans thought it was right for the Greeks to have a vote on new bailout conditions, only 38 percent thought there should be an improved offer from the rest of the eurozone.

Most people said they were concerned for the well-being of ordinary Greeks, but thought the crisis didn't threaten the European Union itself or the German economy.

"Germans aren't prepared to offer new money with no guarantee that anything is going to change in return," said Wohlgemuth.

But "Germans would still be ready to help Greece if it becomes incapable of importing important foodstuffs, medicine, gas.

"There the EU and Germany are certainly willing and able to help the Greek people – but no longer to give money to support the Greek government."

Why aren't left-wingers softer on Greece?

Ordinary voters' exhaustion with the Greece crisis has had a noticeable impact on political leaders' words, as the response from Merkel's coalition partners the Social Democratic Party (SPD) has shown.

SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel has been trying to sound tougher than Merkel and Schäuble in recent days, saying on Monday that Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had "torn down the bridges" between Greece and Europe with his referendum and that new negotiations were "difficult to imagine."

Although the Green and Linke (Left) parties can both afford to be softer on Greece, knowing that their core voters share deeply-held left-wing attitudes, Gabriel's SPD have to aim for a bigger target.

In 2017, the SPD hope to make up some of the massive lead Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) have opened up over the past decade and once again become a party with a chance of leading a government.

"Gabriel wasn't talking like this when the first packages for Greece were constructed in 2010, 2011 and so on," Wohlgemuth recalled.

But the new language "is certainly a reflection of the mood of SPD voters, of the general mood in the population, and it is certainly something new, something surprising.

"No-one wants to be to blame for this crisis, when it becomes more and more obvious that there are large costs involved for the German taxpayer and money has been lost."

Will anti-EU campaigners in Germany make gains?

While in Britain and France the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and National Front have been quick to make hay from the crisis, the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) may not be able to do the same.

On the very same day as Greeks went to the polls to vote on bailout conditions, AfD members were voting in a new leader – Frauke Petry.

Petry represents a populist, further right version of AfD politics than party co-founder and long-time frontman Bernd Lucke, with whom she had previously shared the leadership.

Since its beginnings as a dry, academic party that campaigned against the Euro single currency, AfD has attracted increasing numbers of members with more visceral right-wing politics, especially opponents of immigration.

"Many of the more respectable members of the party are now going to leave," Wohlgemuth said, "many of the more classical liberal economic, academic part of the party. It will turn rather nasty and populist, it seems."

For the anti-immigration crowd, the euro is less of an issue than the Schengen rules that allow for free movement between most EU member states and respect for the Dublin rules on how the EU deals with refugees.

"The national-conservative part of the party is not so much concerned about the eurozone and does not have much of an expertise there," Wohlgemuth confirmed.

Unable to capitalize on the Greek moment, he continued, "I'm not sure that the AfD will have a big success in the coming elections, because it gives the impression of being divided and incapable."

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