Berlin cabdriver Jens Mueller says he’s had it with the Greek government and he doesn’t want Germany to send any more of his tax money to be squandered in Athens.
“They’ve got a lot of hubris and arrogance, being in the situation they’re in and making all these demands,” said Mueller, 49, waiting for fares near the Brandenburg Gate. “Maybe it’s better for Greece to just leave the euro.”
Mueller’s sentiment is shared by a majority of Germans. A poll published March 13 by public broadcaster ZDF found 52 percent of his countrymen no longer want Greece to remain in Europe’s common currency, up from 41 percent last month. The shift is due to a view held by 80 percent of Germans that Greece’s government “isn’t behaving seriously toward its European partners.”
The hardening of German opinion is significant because the country is the biggest contributor to Greece’s 240 billion-euro ($253 billion) twin bailouts and the chief proponent of budget cuts and reforms in return for aid. Tensions have been escalating between the two governments since Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras took office in January, promising to end an austerity drive that he blames on Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Tsipras has also stepped up calls for war reparations from Germany for the Nazi occupation during World War II and Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis has been locked in a war of words with his German counterpart Wolfgang Schaeuble. Last week, the Greek government officially complained about Schaeuble’s conduct, to which Schaeuble replied that the whole matter was “absurd.”
It was Varoufakis’s behavior in the spotlight last night when German public broadcaster ARD showed a video of him shot at a 2013 event saying: “Greece should simply announce that it’s defaulting ... and stick the finger to Germany.” He then raises his middle finger.
Varoufakis, who was a guest on ARD’s Guenther Jauch program, acknowledged the footage was from the speech but said that the “video was doctored. I never gave the finger.” ARD told German newspaper Bild that it has found no evidence of tampering with the video. A Greek finance ministry spokesman didn’t respond to two phone calls seeking comment.
“The way the Greeks have been behaving has been impossible,” said Dorli Schneider, an interpreter waiting for a train at Munich’s central station. “Greece should pay back what they owe. We can’t forever give them more money.”
The shift in German sentiment comes as Greece, at risk of running out of cash this month, battles with European officials over the release of more bailout funds. Tsipras will join European leaders Thursday for talks in Brussels.
German voters’ growing umbrage may make it harder for Merkel to sell any possible deal down the road to the German public and Bundestag, which would have to vote on it. She also has to be wary of the anti-euro AfD party trying to peel off her voters, said Juergen Falter, a political scientist at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz.
“The pressure is coming from two sides: the public and some opposition parties,” he said. “The government will probably now react more decisively.”
Some in the community of 315,000 Greeks living in Germany say they sense the hardened view that has developed as the crisis drags on.
“People are now quicker to point the finger, and the tone is becoming more aggressive,” said Kostas Tassopoulos, who came to the German capital in 2008 and has thrived producing electronic music under his stage name Ekkohaus. “It’s a bit silly of the Greeks to say their problems are the Germans’ fault, and it’s just as silly that the Germans are trying to put all the blame on the Greeks.”
While Merkel’s government says Greece doesn’t have a blank check to do as it pleases, Germany’s official aim is to keep the euro area together. Just 40 percent of Germans now say they want Greece to remain in the euro.
“The German government could support the Greeks more,” said Manfred Ukleja, a 55-year-old teacher. “The Greeks are founding fathers of the European Union, and they have more significance than just their economy.”
Nonetheless, many Germans say they’ve lost faith in Greece. According to the ZDF poll, 82 percent of respondents doubt that Greece will honor its agreed budget cuts and reforms, while only 14 percent trust that it will follow through. The poll was conducted March 10-12 and has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.
“It’s so frustrating that they constantly criticize us, that they don’t appreciate our help,” said Erika Schmidt, a 53-year-old kindergarten teacher from Augsburg. “I’ve got nothing against Greece, but the way they behave and talk about Germany makes me angry.”