Page last updated at 11:12 GMT, Thursday, 29 April 2010 12:12 UK

Germans baulk at 'bottomless pits' of bail-outs

Angela Merkel, 25 Apr
Angela Merkel may not be the only German checking her purse

By Steven Rosenberg
BBC News, Berlin

There are so many zeros on the front page of the tabloid Bild, you almost need a calculator to understand the story.

The headline declares: "25,000,000,000 Euros!" and "Now the Greeks want even more of our money!"

Twenty-five billion euros is rumoured to be the cost to Germany of participating in a three-year bail-out of Greece.

"Is Greece now a bottomless pit for taxpayers' money?" the paper continues.

It is not just the tabloids that are fuming. So is the German public. Nearly every day, opinion polls in newspapers and on TV show that most Germans oppose the idea of their country bailing out Greece.

Key election

European solidarity has gone out of the window. Germans find it hard to understand why they have to pour billions of German euros into Greece, when it is Greek profligacy that is to blame for the mess in the first place.

Chancellor Angela Merkel knows the public mood. She also knows the political dangers at home of being seen to rescue the Greek economy.

On 9 May, voters in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia go to the polls in a key regional election.

Euro sculpture in Frankfurt, file pic
Stock markets remain nervous and the euro depressed

Lose it, and Chancellor Merkel's governing coalition loses its majority in the upper house of the German parliament, making it harder for her government to push through its reform programme.

Writing Athens a cheque for 25bn euros is unlikely to win her coalition too many votes. Perhaps that is one reason Angela Merkel has been reluctant to sign on the dotted line and provide the funds.

There is another reason: concern that throwing money at the problem will not solve it.

Germans wonder whether the Greeks are serious about tightening their belts.

And what happens if the crisis spreads? Will Germany be expected to stump up billions more for Portugal or Spain if those economies get into serious trouble?

How many "bottomless pits" will Berlin be expected to pay into?

'Resolute action'

But the cost of delaying a rescue deal could be immense too. Across Europe there is growing criticism of what is perceived as German intransigence.

Chancellor Merkel is coming under intense pressure to pay up. In Berlin on Wednesday, the head of the International Monetary Fund made it clear there was no time to lose.

US President Barack Obama telephoned the chancellor to urge "resolute action".

Meanwhile stock markets remain nervous, the euro depressed, the danger of contagion real.

Chancellor Merkel will not be hurried. She says she will wait until negotiations between Greece and the international community are completed before deciding whether to back a bailout.

But she is facing accusations that Germany's caution is making a bad situation even worse.

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