German Papers Decry the Country's 'Hesitant Hegemony'

A look at recent German headlines shows the difficulty the government of the euro zone’s biggest country faces in satisfying both the demands of its euro zone partners and those of its citizens.

Reichstag Parliment building, Berlin, Germany
Maremagnum | Getty Images
Reichstag Parliment building, Berlin, Germany

Many Germans have criticized their government for bailing out countries whose citizens they believe work less hard than Germans and enjoy more state benefits. Periphery euro zone states meanwhile have blamed tough statements from German officials for aggravating market attackson their sovereign debt.

Newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung wrote that Chancellor Angela Merkel appears to be facing an increasingly difficult balancing act in showing support in Brussels for Germany's struggling euro zone partners, while appeasing voters at home.

“Dominant against its will. A hesitant hegemony,” read one opinion piece.

Mindful of angering her fellow Germans and paving the way for criticism in popular tabloids, Merkel talks of the European debt crisis in terms of “punishment, discipline and strictness” rather than “equality and congeniality,” Sueddeutsche remarked.

Germany’s discontent at having to foot Europe’s bills is growing, but economists say the country has no choice but to support ailing euro zone countries if it wants to safeguard it own economy.

The euro zone is increasingly becoming a "transfer union," in which risks are shared among member states, banking expert Wolfgang Gerke, president of the Bavarian Financial Center, told Der Spiegel.

No Alternative

Germany has no alternative, Gerke said.

Without transfers, the euro zone could break up, with "considerable damage to the German economy."

Headlines in the country's tabloids highlight the frustration of many Germans who resent having to pay for Greek pensions.

"Euro Alarm - What the Bankrupt Irish Will Cost Us," read one recent Bild headline, while another read: “Will We Have to Pay for All of Europe?”

Germany’s finance minister has said he is opposed to an increase in the size of the European Union’s crisis fund, and the country has angered other European Union member states by trying to rewrite the EU’s treaties to set up a new bailout system for future Greek-like collapses.

“We have an instrument to deal with the crisis in the euro zone,” German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung quoted finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble as saying, adding he dismissed claims that the 750 billion euro ($975 million) rescue package could be increased.

Merkel’s insistence that private investors should bear more of the cost of such rescues annoyed other member states, but it also appeased increasingly frustrated Germans.

“Brussels Stops Merkel” Sueddeutsche Zeitung wrote of Merkel’s struggle to get the private sector to stump up for future bailouts.

Spiegel said the German foreign ministry is now preparing a document aimed at improving Germany’s damaged reputation in Europe.

The aim, Spiegel said, is to "increase the acceptance of Germany's future European policy decisions."