How Germany Profits from Greece’s Crisis

At the beginning of April 2011, Hans-Jürgen Arlt and Wolfgang Storz presented a study of the German daily tabloid Bild. In it, the media scholars analyzed the Bild series “Geheimakte Griechenland” (“Secret Dossier: Greece”), and came to the conclusion that Bild works with (racist) stereotypes and worldviews. The series lacks all journalistic standards; Bild constantly takes on “the role of the right-wing populist party missing in Germany’s political landscape.” ( Hard accusations, but Bild’s “system” works. A mere month later, Chancellor Angela Merkel made use of the racist figure of the “lazy Greek”: whoever wants German help should please go work and not take an early retirement pension or constantly take vacations.

The target of this baiting, alongside Greece, was Portugal. That these accusations are baseless is shown by all comparative studies on the topic. The actual hours worked per week in Greece, according to Eurostat, are 44.3 hours. In Germany, in contrast, the amount is only 41 hours (The EU average is 41.7 hours). The French bank Natixis estimates an average annual working time for Germany of 1,390 hours, in Greece the average is 2,119 hours. According to the EU agency Eurofound, Greek workers are entitled to 23 days of vacation per year. The Germans, in contrast, have 30 days. That is the highest in Europe. The Germans “lead even when holidays are counted.” (Spiegel Online, May 18th, 2011)

Furthermore, German businesses (and the Federal Ministry of Finance) profit from the “help” granted thus far to Greece and the wave of privatizations ordered by the EU, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund.

Thus, Deutsche Telekom has expanded its share of the Greek telephone company OTE by 10 percent. For that, it paid 400 million Euros. In 2008, the German company joined in with a share of 30 percent. At the time, there was heavy resistance against the share package with a value of 3.8 billion Euros. In the meantime, the Greek government would prefer to relinquish ownership of the company completely to Deutsche Telekom. That should contribute to achieving the expected yields from privatization of 50 billion Euros by the year 2015.

Athens International Airport is also supposed to be sold. The airport operator Fraport from Frankfurt am Main was interested in purchasing it. Fraport is already “engaged” in Delhi, Cairo, and St. Petersburg and is therefore on its way to becoming one of the largest airport operators in the world. Part of Athens International Airport is already “in German hands”: the construction company Hochtief has a 40 percent share.

Also up for sale are the two largest harbors in the country (Thessaloniki, Piraeus), further airports, the state gambling monopoly (OPAP), the gasworks (DEPA), the Greek weapons industry as well as natural gas deposits in the sea near the harbor city Kavala, the toll rights of the Greek highway system, parts of the public power corporation (DEI) as well as an aluminum factory, a casino near Athens, and real estate owned by the state. The Greek government was also obligated in the latest round of agreements among other things to sell the rest of its equity in TT Hellenic Postbank (34 percent) as well as more than half of its equity in the Thessaloniki Water Supply and Sewage Company (74 percent).

But Greece is not to be left alone during the clearance sale: the head of Eurogroup, Jean-Claude Juncker, openly threatens: the European Union will monitor Greece’s privatization program “as tightly as if we were conducting it ourselves.” In the meantime, a receivership has been proposed after the model of the German Treuhandanstalt.

But Germany also profits in other ways from the crisis – and to the tune of 10 billion Euros. That is the figure worked out by Thomas Fricke of Financial Times Deutschland (May 20, 2011). In 2010, a credit rescue package in the amount of 110 billion Euros was put together for Greece. Germany’s share was 22 billion, and it will receive in return a tidy amount in interest. Germany’s Reconstruction Credit Institute (KfW) is carrying out the business on behalf of the government, and has brought in around 500 million Euros in the first year. Germany also pocketed around 250 million Euros for the Greek government bonds bought up by the European Central Bank. The ECB purchased unsaleable Greek government bonds, but did not relinquish its claims on the interest.

Greece’s looming state bankruptcy is driving finance capital to seek safer investments – among others in US Treasury Securities and German Federal Securities. That further drives down the interest rates that the German Ministry of Finance has to pay on its loans. Lower interest rates save Wolfgang Schäuble 3,5 billion Euros. Also, there’s the relatively low prime rate, which would definitely be higher without the crisis – Holger Schmieding of Berenberg Bank estimates at least ¾ of a point higher. Lower interest rates lead to a better “investment climate”, above all in Germany, which leads to higher tax revenue. All of this together, says Fricke, yields around 10 billion Euros, which does not flow southward, but rather benefits Germany.

Translation: (Thanks a lot!)

The original German version of this article appeared in the June 17, 2011 issue of analyse & kritik – zeitung für linke debatte und praxis