Open Europe Blog

The parties scramble on Greece in the election campaign

As we discussed yesterday, Germany has finally owned up to what everyone already knew – Greece needs more help. Not exactly ground breaking news some might say, but given that the German federal elections are 4 weeks away, the response in Germany has been frantic – providing a bit more insight into how each party views the eurozone crisis.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said yesterday:

“I cannot say today what amount would possibly be needed…I cannot put forward a number, or confirm one. I don’t know. One cannot know…We can only decide in the middle of next year.” 

“I have to say I am a little surprised. Each Member of Parliament has all materials [relating to Greece.] And that, what [German Finance Minister Wolfgang] Schäuble said yesterday about Greece, everyone already knew that.”

Since Schäuble let the cat out of the bag a few days ago, the government, (via numerous politicians and spokespeople) has been tirelessly trying to display the comments as being in line with existing party policy. It has also tried to dispel the discussion altogether, suggesting no decision will be taken until mid-2014.

As expected in an election campaign, the opposition has jumped on the slip up. In an interview with Osnabrücker Zeitung, SPD Chancellor Candidate Peer Steinbrück said:

“I say clearly that saving Europe and the cohesion of the continent will cost something, also us Germans. It is time that Mrs Merkel tells that honestly to the people.”

In an interview with Handelsblatt, SPD Chairman Sigmar Gabriel said:

“[This] is the difference between the Chancellor and the SPD. Mrs Merkel says Germany will not go into a debt-union. In reality, the Chancellor has already long-organised such debt union secretly via the ECB. Mr Draghi has taken over state financing in the crisis states. But even before the election, the bill is going to arrive, in that Greece will guaranteed apply for another debt haircut.”

Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder also made his first foray into the election, telling a party rally:

“It is a big lie that Germany will not have to pay for Europe.”

For all the SPD’s attempts to push the CDU into admitting that the eurozone will need further aid, it still isn’t entirely clear what the SPD sees as the solution to the eurozone crisis. This has hampered its attempts to take advantage of the situation. It’s also telling that interventions by SPD party ‘big beasts’ seem to make Chancellor candidate Steinbrück look timid and uninspiring — rather than helping him.

The Bavarian sister party of the CDU has been notoriously pessimistic over the eurozone crisis and is, expectedly, none too happy about the timing and the substance of the admission that Greece needs more aid.

CSU leader and President of Barvaria, Horst Seehofer said that a new aid package for Greece “is not in question,” and that he is “not very happy,” with the current discussion. Meanwhile, Bavarian Finance Minister Markus Soeder warned that:

“It was completely wrong to announce a third programme [for Greece] now.”

The ECB has offered veiled support to the German government. ECB Executive Board member Jörg Asmussen, who was visiting Athens yesterday, said that the plan remained to assess Greece’s situation once it registers an annual primary budget surplus — likely at the end of this year.

Meanwhile, Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann commented that, “Nobody here [in Germany] longs for the D-Mark…We are fighting for a stable euro,” playing down fears this could revive talk of a eurozone break up.

Other parties have weighed in as well, with Alternative für Deutschland and Die Linke slamming the prospect of any further bailouts as expected. This incident could potentially help increase their share of the vote, although it may well come at the expense of the junior coalition partner, the FDP, which has been fairly quiet throughout this episode – that of course could make creating a governing coalition a bit trickier.

Despite the CDU’s attempts then, this issue seems here to stay, although it is unlikely to have a significant bearing on the outcome of the election.

That said, it doesn’t paint a rosy picture for the German approach to the eurozone crisis after the election. Those expecting huge change are likely to be dissapointed. Another bailout simply suggests more of the same. Meanwhile, all parties seem short of any real policies for how to change the current approach and/or find a real solution to the eurozone’s economic woes.

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