ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
No country is playing a more critical role in dealing with Greece than Germany. Germany has the most powerful economy in Europe. It’s home to the European Central Bank – the ECB – and it’s the key political dealmaker. German public opinion has been stacked against Greece from the beginning of this crisis, and many Germans feel that the Greeks deserve the consequences of their actions. To hear more about the German view, I’m joined now by Roman Pletter. He is deputy head of the business and economics section of the newspaper Die Zeit, and he joins us from Hamburg. Welcome to the program.
ROMAN PLETTER: Welcome. Hello.
SIEGEL: As we hear news about the very real fears and crises on the streets of Greece, how would you describe the mood in Germany?
PLETTER: Well, actually, it’s a mixture of frustration and indifference. I think frustration with the Greek government because many Germans feel like the Greece government were just playing them for several weeks when there was just enough time to get a deal done. But the other side is that in Germany itself, economically speaking, actually, it’s like living on an island at the moment. So unemployment is low. Growth is doing well. And I think we do not feel all the economic problems some other countries in the euro zone might face at the moment.
SIEGEL: When you say you feel like you’re living on an island, you feel like you’re living on a very pleasant island is what you are saying.
PLETTER: That’s right. And so I think there is no huge outrage about Greece. That’s not the case. Another side is that, of course, there are some politicians who think we have to rescue them because they fear that if the euro collapses, the whole euro zone and even Europe is an idea might be destroyed afterwards.
SIEGEL: Well, does maintaining the euro zone and maintaining the euro as a currency – does that trump whatever sense of fairness Germans might have, thinking that it’s only fair that Greece honor its obligations?
PLETTER: Well, I think that’s at the heart of the economic thinking of, for example, Chancellor Angela Merkel. She once said she wants to run the economy like a Swabian housewife, which refers to doing economic policy in a way like running your household. That means don’t spend more money than you have, and that’s what her conservative constituency expects from her. And given the fact that Germany had Social Security reforms 10 years ago, when former Chancellor Gerhard Schroder – he had to resign afterwards because people did not support these reforms. Now we are benefiting from these reforms. And many Germans think we had this hard time, and we expect the Greece people doing this themselves.
SIEGEL: But what – how did Germans react to the argument that, yes, Germany said, we should run this like a sound German household. On the other hand, by including Greece in the euro zone, you more or less said to an improvident member of the family go run up a bill. You can now borrow money is if you were a German, at very low rates.
PLETTER: I see your point, and I think that’s an argument often made by other countries criticizing Germany. The answer you would get from many German politicians is that when Greece joined the euro, they actually betrayed the other countries in the euro zone with delivering wrong numbers about their growth rates, about their economic situation. And they basically lied their way into the euro zone. And that’s something many people are still kind of struggling with. And that makes it so hard for many Germans to say, well, actually, we’ll bail out Greece anyway, but that’s a problem. In my personal opinion, that’s a problem because it’s very backwards-looking. It doesn’t help us in the future. Now we have to deal with the situation. They’re in the euro zone, and we have to deal with it.
SIEGEL: Roman Pletter of the newspaper Die Zeit in Hamburg. Thanks for talking with us today.
PLETTER: Thank you very much.
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