Germany Walks Away From Greece

Preparing for Greece’s exit from the Eurozone has been picking up momentum and has reached critical mass—on the way to a fait accompli. Still unspeakable in public discussion last year, it has become a routine topic at all levels of government. While everyone at the very top still hues to the line that Greece should stay in the Eurozone, out of the other side of the mouth comes but—especially since the focus is on Spain, the real problem, the one problem that the Eurozone will have trouble digesting.

Even if it could digest bailing out Spain or losing Spain, the next step up, Italy, due to its size, is beyond bailout and would cause the Eurozone to fracture into its component pieces—unless the ECB decides against all treaty limitations and stiff German opposition to monetize directly and without qualms any sovereign debt that needs to be monetized. And even that would tear up the Eurozone because Germany and a handful of other countries would refuse to be tied to that kind of loosey-goosey management of their currency.

There are political realities in Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel, slipping in the polls, is trying to decipher the scribbles on the wall. Her people, who vacation in Greece more than any other people, have handed her some clues: 60% said they wanted Greece out of the Eurozone, a jump from November when an already shocking 49% had wanted them out, according to a ZDF Politbarometer poll released Friday. Only 31% wanted Greece to remain in the Eurozone, down from 41% in November, with 9% not giving a hoot.

And Germans made short shrift of French President François Hollande’s favorite debt crisis panacea that he’d demanded from day one of his campaign, re-demanded at the G-8 in Chicago, and slammed on the table at the EU summit in Brussels earlier this week: Eurobonds. An astounding 79% were against them, and only 14% were for them.

Apparently, Germans have understood how insidious—insidious for Germans, but a great deal for debt-sinner countries—these bonds would be. They’d spread the risk of each country to all countries, but the last man standing, possibly Germany, would end up having to bear them all. They’d cut the borrowing costs for Greece (oops, scratch that), Spain, Italy, and a slew of other Eurozone countries but raise the costs for Germany—now zero on shorter term debt, and negative when adjusted for inflation. It didn’t help that Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann vilified them in his quiet manner every chance he got, most recently when he said, “The belief that Eurobonds could solve the current crisis is an illusion.”

But the next big battle may actually revolve around keeping Germany in the Eurozone: 50% of the respondents saw more disadvantages than advantages, up from 43% in February; only 45% saw more advantages, down from 51% in February. The more costs and risks rise for Germany, the more this number is going to skew away from the euro. A scary trend for Eurozone bailout freaks. And suddenly Germans woke up to the headline, “Greeks Pay less Taxes”—taxes being a sore subject for Germans who pay out of their noses to get their welfare-state budget into balance.

“The notoriously tax-sinning Greeks paid their government even less than before,” the article began unnervingly. Turns out, Reuters had gotten two anonymous “senior” finance ministry officials to talk: Greeks were refusing to pay their taxes in euros in anticipation that they could soon pay them in drachmas, albeit with minor penalties. And lacking a government, they wanted to wait for the outcome of the next election on June 17, which hopefully would produce a government, any government. And so tax revenues in May were on track to drop 10%. Outside of Athens and Thessaloniki, tax revenues would fall between 15% and 30%. First capital flight then quiet bank runs, and now a refusal to pay taxes to a government they don’t have, in a currency they might not have much longer…. The Greeks are preparing for a reversion to the drachma, and they’re trying, very understandably, and very smartly, to protect whatever they can—which, of course, simply speeds up the process of reverting to the drachma.

And when Germans were through with this article, the same Friday morning, they’re hit by the headline, “How the Greek Elite Stuff their Pockets,” an article about corruption in Greece. And so, at a conference in Berlin, Jürgen Fitschen, designated Co-Chairman of the gargantuan Deutsche Bank, said that there is no single solution for the euro debt crisis in part because the situation in Greece is so unique. Then he let it slip that Greece was a “failed state.”

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