By Peter Wittig, German Ambassador to the U.S.-HuffingtonPost
There has been a lot of talk about who has won and who has lost in the recent negotiations on the Greek debt crisis, about who is strong and who is weak in Europe, who is cruel to whom and who has dictated what. This whole discussion, in my mind, misses the point. Europe, especially Germany, wants a strong Greece. The latest negotiations on Greece in the eurozone were not some kind of a poker game. They were a strong show of solidarity within Europe.
Finding common ground in the European Union is often an arduous process, as the European Union’s system is one of shared sovereignty. In the case of Greece, this means that the Greek people rightly expect the other European countries to help them in their dire situation. On the other hand, it is Slovakian, Latvian, German, and other European taxpayers who provide the aid that Greece receives. Therefore, governments must also be accountable for what they do with their money. For this reason, it is not solely the decision of the Greeks or the Slovakians or the Latvians or the Germans, for that matter. Instead, it must be a collective decision by all the countries that share this common currency, the euro, as to how this help can best be provided. To outside observers, the process may seem a bit arbitrary and slow; however, this is the way the democracies in the EU share their responsibilities and come to common decisions that respect the will of their peoples. The crisis leads and continues to lead to more coordination and more integration in economic policy among the countries using the euro. The ultimate goal of the financial assistance programs is for Greece to regain access to the financial markets so that it will no longer have to depend on European help. That is why institutional and structural reforms are pivotal.
Germany wants a strong Greece, because a thriving Greek economy benefits the eurozone as a whole. This is why Greece and the other 18 eurozone members agreed on a comprehensive reform package that will help Greece regain economic competitiveness. Some of these reforms were quickly approved by the Greek parliament -by an overwhelming majority. They will make Greece more competitive and economically sound.
Germany wants a strong Greece, also because we have strong personal ties between our two countries. Over 300,000 people who live in Germany are of Greek descent and a large percentage of Greeks have lived in Germany at some point in their lives. This is why Germans have a strong compassion for Greek retirees who wait desperately for hours in front of closed banks to withdraw money from their accounts. The difficulties of the Greek people also resonate deeply with the German parliament. This is one reason why the overwhelming majority in the Bundestag recently voted in favor of starting negotiations for new aid to Greece.
There is also an overarching reason as to why Germany wants a strong Greece. We want a strong Greece, because we want a strong Europe – a Europe that can cope with the challenges it faces: Russian destabilization of Ukraine, at the doorstep of the European Union; thousands of refugees crossing the Mediterranean to reach Europe; the critical situation in Syria; and the threat of global terrorism. These challenges can only be addressed by a Europe that is robust, united, and prosperous.
Germany wants a strong and successful Greece for the sake of the Greek people, for Germany, and for all of Europe.