EUROPE IS TEARING ITSELF APART &
SINKING RAPIDLY INTO POVERTY
[German Chancellor Angela Merkel
Rages Against Greece]
"We're right to tell the Greeks: you have to save money,
you have to be candid and you have to work on your honesty,
otherwise we can't help you."
Nicholas Kulish of the Guardian
reports that on the day when Standard & Poor's downgraded Greece's bonds
to junk status on the 28th of April, Chancellor Angela Merkel was
in the city of Bocholt. A medium-sized town with about 70,000 inhabitants,
it might appear as a somewhat strange place to be at a time of crisis for
the head of government of Europe's biggest economy.
But Bocholt belongs to the state of North Rhine Westphalia,
Germany's most populous state, where Merkel's Christian Democrats are facing
a regional election on 9 May. It became most obvious that the regional election
campaign was on Merkel's mind when she reacted to the crisis in Greece:
"We're right to tell the Greeks: you have to save money, you have to be candid
and you have to work on your honesty, otherwise we can't help you."
NOTE: On Monday, 10 May 2010,
German Chancellor Angela Merkel admitted her coalition suffered a "bitter
defeat" in the elections in North Rhine-Westphalia (noted above). Most
analysts believe Merkel's defeat was in large part due to her government's
recent decision to contribute to a huge rescue package for Greece – a rescue
package that most German voters want nothing to do with. The fear among
Germans is that by contributing billions to the Greek bailout they will
have to suffer wage cuts and tax freezes in the future to pay for it.
Now it's one thing to ask Greece for strict austerity measures in return for
a bailout deal, but when Merkel implicitly said that the Greeks weren't honest
and had poured money down the drain, Merkel was simply reacting to anti-Greek
prejudices apparently shared by great numbers in Germany these days. Germany's
biggest tabloid, Bild, screamed:
"You Greeks are getting nothing from us."
And when young policymakers in Merkel's Christian Democrat and Liberal coalition
in a newspaper article asked Greece to sell a few of their islands to solve
the problem, it was only the beginning of a series of rather unhelpful proposals.
Naturally enough, Germans know that they are being cast as the stingy villains
in the financial drama over Greece. But in the struggling industrial cities
in western Germany, they see themselves as victims of endless demands inside
and outside the country for dwindling resources.
Gordon Welters for The New York Times writes:
"The Ruhr has declined as a prosperous industrial region, and many beleaguered
former West Germans, the stalwarts of European integration before the country's
reunification, are increasingly asking what is in it for them. The repercussions
for Europe and the stability of financial markets worldwide could be enormous.
"Even before the drama in Athens, local residents' fatigue was evident from
helping to shoulder the financial burden of rebuilding eastern Germany, as
the heavy industry they depended on bled away.
"Germany's nearly $30 billion share of the bailout deal for Greece - and
with it the fear that other countries on the periphery of the euro zone like
Portugal and Spain will not be far behind - comes after the country spent
an estimated $2 trillion to build up the former East Germany since the fall
of the Berlin Wall in 1989. 'It's been like this for 20 years', said Walter
Schmidt, 71, a retired mechanic who is opposed to helping Greece. 'Germany
has its own debts. And the Ruhr is now very poor'.
"The recent plunge in stock markets and the fall of the euro against the
dollar have been driven in large part by the fear that Germany would not help
cover the debts of overburdened euro zone members, given how grudgingly and
slowly the assistance for Greece came. 'I've lived in this state for 20 years
and I've never seen the people so concerned about the future, about the economic
and the social situation', said Franz Lehner, professor of applied social
science at the Ruhr University of Bochum. 'The capability to survive in these
cities is really at stake'.
A closed factory in the Ruhr - shadows of Detroit
"Bochum's Nokia cellphone factory picked up stakes two years ago and moved
to Romania, with more than 2,000 jobs melting away in its wake. The carmaker
Opel, which once employed 25,000 people in the city, today provides work for
around 5,000 people, jobs that are also in jeopardy as Opel's corporate parent,
General Motors, restructures its subsidiary.
HAPPENED IN DETROIT
(born Hans Eckard Wader on 23 June 1942) is a German
songwriter (Liedermacher), singer and guitarist.
He is an important figure in German leftist circles;
he writes songs covering such themes as socialist and
communist resistance to oppression in Europe and other
places like Latin America. WADER IS GERMANY'S VERSION
OF PETE SEEGER
"Unemployment is 10.2 percent in Bochum, lower than in nearby Essen or Dortmund,
but well above the national rate of 8.1 percent. 'You wouldn't believe how
many old people, normally dressed, are collecting bottles in front of the
train station', said Johannes Henke, 40, a taxi driver standing under a shopping
center overhang to stay out of the rain."
NOTE: Germany counts
unemployment much in the same fashion that the United States does, so one
must double the official figure of 10.2 percent to 20.4 percent to get the
real unemployment rate in Germany.
"Like municipalities throughout the Ruhr, the city government is in deep
fiscal trouble. According to Paul Aschenbrenner, the Bochum city director,
the city was $1.8 billion in debt, or $4,700 for each resident. The government
has been forced to cut municipal jobs, raise fees at music schools and reduce
hours and increase prices at sports facilities. 'Yet last year the city paid
$11.6 million to help with projects in the former East Germany, part of the
$290 million it has paid since the fall of the Berlin Wall', Mr. Aschenbrenner
"Christian Haardt, a Bochum City Council member said: 'We're barely able
to fill potholes in Bochum, and yet we are being asked to bail-out Greece'."
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