Berlin, Germany - Opinion polls in Germany show most people there don’t want their country to give bailout money to Greece. But people we spoke to in Berlin seemed to have a more realistic view.
Did think she Germany should help Greece, I asked a young woman. "No," was her short and forceful answer.
Did she think her government would help Greece, I then asked. "Yes," she said just as forcefully.
When asked why, she simply said: "Because we have to."
That seems to be the feeling among many Germans. They don’t want their government to back billions of dollars in loans to Greece, but they know there is no other choice.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel should find some comfort in opinions like the one above. With an important May 9election scheduled in Germany's most populated state, Northrhein-Westfalia, political rivals and other observers have accused Merkel of trying to sit it out and postpone a decision on the Greek aid package until after the vote.
Merkel herself denies this. And if it was her intention to wait it out, it backfired, bringing her even more criticism both in Germany and abroad.
"Aid to Greece cannot be automatic," Merkel said shortly after Athens announced it had asked the EU and the IMF to set its bailout in motion last week. Some experts believe the perceived reluctance of the German government further weakened Greece and also possibly affected the credit ratings of Spain and Portugal, both of which were downgraded by the agency Standard and Poor's.
The situation became so dramatic that the head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, visited Berlin last Wednesday to urge Merkel and her government to get a move on.
"We must understand that time is of the essence," Strauss-Kahn said, and noted that the stability of the entire euro zone was in jeopardy.
Meanwhile, the opposition Social Democrats and Green party accused the Merkel government of dragging its feet and putting short term political concerns ahead of Europe’s and Germany’s fundamental interest of keeping the euro alive and stable.
Looking at the situation now it appears as though Merkel’s gamble didn’t pay off. Polls in Northrhein-Westfalia point to massive losses of the governing coalition of Merkel’s Christian Democrats and the Liberal Democratic party, although some believe there are other reasons as well, as the Christian Democratic governor of the state faces allegations of campaign finance irregularities.
In a press conference in Berlin on Monday, Merkel justified her government's handling of the situation, saying that, "giving Greece a blank check," would have made the situation even worse.
In the end the voters will judge her handling of the crisis, possibly as early as May 9.
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