Greece and Germany have two different visions of their shared currency zone and common government.
Greece, the debtor, claims that Germany must write off substantial sums which Greece owes her. In the name of solidarity within the zone, the rich country should come to the financial aid of the poorer country. In the name of common humanity Germany should allow Greece to spend more, offering free energy and food to the poor by increasing public spending. The extra spending will need to be borrowed.
If there are further troubles with people withdrawing money from Greek banks,. the European Central Bank should provide the money the Greek commercial banks need to pay out their departing depositors. Greece cannot cover the interest charges on her large debts out of tax revenue, so she thinks Germany should accept a lower interest rate or deferral of the charge on that part of the debt which is to remain.
The Greeks point out Germany has run a large trade surplus within the Eurozone since its birth. Germany has sold many cars and other products to Greece. She has had to lend Greece the money to cover the deficit. The gap cannot be closed by devaluing the Greek currency, as would happen if they still had their own money systems. So say the Greeks the gap has to be closed by writing off debt.
Germany says the opposite. When she joined the Euro she made it clear that Germany had no wish to stand behind foreign banks and foreign states within the zone. They all had to show similar discipline in their finances to Germany’s. They all had to cut their costs and raise their productivity so they could compete with Germany at the locked in effective exchange rate when they joined the Euro. Germany explained it would be a tough discipline with no bail outs.
German public opinion is against money printing by the ECB. The German economy does not need it, and Germany sees it as a soft option to help weaker countries borrow more at low interest rates, to finance deficits which Germany thinks are too high. German public opinion is also against a Greek debt write off, as this time it will be the main creditor countries like Germany which will lose out. Last time it was the private sector that took the cuts, with states protected.
Germany lost the battle of Quantitative easing. It is gradually losing the battle to keep each country’s commercial banks apart, as the responsibility of the sponsor member state. Will it now also lose the battle over Greek debt? If so, will more Germans wish to leave the Euro? Many Germans remember just how dear the enforced merger of the Ostmark and the DM was to West Germany. They do not want the same again on the much larger scale of the Euro. The fundamental flaws in the Euro’s construction are becoming all too visible in the row between Greece and Germany. Germany has the money but it does not have many allies.
I do not see an obvious way of squaring this painful circle or reconciling these two very divergent views. Trying to resolve the two visions means deciding between a transfer union that might work, and a disciplined Euro which means more austerity and more bankruptcies.