Euroscepticism rises in crisis-weary Germany

18th September 2011, Comments 0 comments

A decade after swapping the mighty deutschmark for the euro, the once fiercely pro-euro Germans are becoming more eurosceptic, analysts say, as people in Europe's top economy tire of the debt crisis.

With the eurozone's woes on the front pages most days, people in Germany, who are paying the lion's share into the rescue packages, appear to be turning against the single currency but remain faithful to the EU, surveys show.

A poll by the German Marshall Fund published Thursday found 76 percent of Germans were in favour of the European Union but that percentage dropped to 48 percent when asked about the monetary union.

Germans are fed up of stumping up for what they see as profligate countries such as Greece that have failed to undertake the hard economic reforms Germany has, said Claire Demesmay, from the German Council on Foreign Relations.

"In the Germans' popular imagination until now, Europe had a very positive image, synonymous with anchoring Germany in the western world and international acceptance," she said.

"But now there is a feeling that the Germans have made painful reforms and the others have not," she added, citing labour market changes made under former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

Signs of mounting German anger at the euro are growing. Even Germany's EU Commissioner, Guenther Oettinger, has suggested the flags of deficit sinners should be lowered outside European institutions.

A former captain of industry, Hans Olaf Henkel, has called for a "monetary club" limited to Germany and "fiscally virtuous" northern euro states. Joachim Starbatty, an economist, has given the eurozone "around two years" to live.

And a handful of demonstrators wielding placards proclaiming "Let's Get Out Of The Euro" recently protested outside the European Central Bank building in Frankfurt, the very symbol of the currency.

Germany's top-selling Bild on Thursday mocked up the same building as if it were collapsing with an accompanying editorial: "What country are we living in nowadays? Our government did not swear an oath to save the Greeks from harm."

Conscious of the prevailing public mood, politicians are burnishing their own eurosceptic credentials.

Economy Minister and Vice Chancellor Philipp Roesler sent markets into a tailspin last week with loose talk of a Greek default, earning himself a rebuke from Chancellor Angela Merkel.

His Free Democrats, junior partners in the ruling coalition, appeared to gain a boost from the anti-bailout line, with a poll published Friday showing them up two points to five percent. Merkel's conservatives fell two points to 33 percent.

Meanwhile President Christian Wulff, not generally known for outbursts on monetary policy, recently upbraided the ECB for its controversial policy of buying government bonds.

And this year, the country's two most senior central bankers, Bundesbank President Axel Weber and ECB chief economist Juergen Stark, both resigned in an apparent huff over how "un-German" the management of the euro is becoming.

Merkel herself rarely misses an opportunity to tell the public that the euro is as strong and stable a currency as the deutschmark, the powerful symbol of Germany's strength and post-war "economic miracle."

"In spite of all the turmoil, I note that the euro has stood the test of time. It is as stable and valuable as the D-Mark," she said Thursday as she opened the IAA car fair, another display of Germany's industrial might.

But the rising unwillingness of German voters and policymakers to continue to bail out the debt-wracked countries of the eurozone is causing Merkel a real headache politically.

On September 29, she faces a parliamentary vote on expanding the EU's rescue fund, the EFSF, and is bracing for a backbench revolt that could throw into doubt the continued viability of her fragile coalition government.

In contrast, similar bills have sailed through in Italy, Spain and France, which are all struggling with debt.

Some have expressed concern about Germany's growing eurosceptic trend.

"The tone of the debate in Germany has become hateful: it has a whiff of 'we know it all'. It is arrogant and vindicative," blasted the Die Zeit weekly.

© 2011 AFP

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