Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Europe's Game of Chicken Germany Needs to Ease the Pressure on Greece

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Europe's Game of Chicken Germany Needs to Ease the Pressure on Greece

Article excerpt

The European Central Bank announced this week that it no longer would accept Greek government debt as collateral for loans. This move was more symbolic than substantive. Still, the moment of truth is clearly approaching.

And it's a moment of truth not just for Greece but for the whole of Europe.

To summarize . . .

Germany to Greece: Nice banking system you got there. Be a shame if something were to happen to it.

Greece to Germany: Oh, yeah? Well, we'd hate to see your nice, shiny European Union get all banged up.

Or if you want the stuffier version, Germany is demanding that Greece keep trying to pay its debts in full by imposing incredibly harsh austerity. The implied threat if Greece refuses is that the central bank will cut off the support it gives to Greek banks, which is what Wednesday's move sounded like but wasn't. And that would wreak havoc with Greece's already terrible economy.

Yet pulling the plug on Greece would pose enormous risks to the whole European project: the 60-year effort to build peace and democracy through shared prosperity. Greek banking collapse would probably lead Greece to leave the euro and establish its own currency - and if even one country were to abandon the euro, investors would be put on notice that Europe's grand currency design is reversible.

Beyond that, chaos in Greece could fuel the sinister political forces that have been gaining influence as Europe's Second Great Depression goes on and on. After a tense meeting with his German counterpart, the new Greek finance minister didn't hesitate to play the 1930s card. "Nazism," he declared, "is raising its ugly head in Greece" - a reference to Golden Dawn, the not-so-neo-Nazi party that is now the third largest in the Greek legislature.

What we're looking at is a very dangerous confrontation. This isn't diplomacy as usual; this is a game of chicken, of two trucks loaded with dynamite barreling toward each other on a narrow mountain road, with neither willing to turn aside. And all of this is taking place within the European Union, which is supposed to be - and has been - an institution that promotes cooperation.

How did Europe get to this point? …

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