BERLIN – For the past few weeks, the gloomy words of the Rolling Stones's 1973 hit "Angie," German Chancellor Angela Merkel's 2005 campaign song, served as a metaphor for her country's disillusionment with the European monetary union.
Angie, Aaaaangie, when will those clouds
Angie, Aaaaangie, where will it lead us from here?
With no loving in our souls and no money in our coats,
You can't say we're satisfied.
But Angie, Aaaaangie, you can't say we never tried,
Angie, you're beautiful, but ain't it time we said goodbye?
These fears reached a crisis point this part weekend when Greece, the euro's biggest problem child, held legislative elections that promised to determine whether the country would abide by the terms of the European Union bailout package. Fortunately, the strongly pro-euro New Democracy party emerged with enough seats to form a shaky coalition, allaying fears that Athens would exit the European currency union, which could trigger a massive financial collapse across the continent.
The center-right party will likely form a majority coalition with the Socialist Pasok party and the small Democratic Left party, with a mandate to put Greece back on firmer financial footing. In contrast to the hard-left Syriza party, which calls for rejecting German austerity measures outright, New Democracy and Pasok seek to renegotiate the terms of the financial rescue plan that has kept Greek banks afloat for the past two years.
Although Syriza made an impressive showing at the ballot box, coming in only about 3 points behind New Democracy, the election results might alleviate some German jitters. In response to the news, a headline in Germany's leading business daily, Handelsblatt, blared yesterday: "Hoping for the victory of reason."
Greece still has its fair share of insanity, of course. The neo-Nazi party Gold Dawn won enough votes to earn representation with 18 seats in Parliament. Its spokesman, Ilias Kasidiaris, slapped a rival politician -- a woman, no less -- on Greek television earlier this month, and in a pre-election speech on Sunday, tried to present his shameful act as somehow a reflection of the popular will, "I have heard it said, from coffee shops to social media sites," he claimed. "'Why don't we send Kasidiaris to talk to Merkel?'"
Golden Dawn and the euroskeptics may have lost out in the weekend's voting, but all's not well yet -- not by a long shot. As part of the second bailout totaling 173 billion euros ($218.6 billion) in international rescue loans, Greece agreed in March to wide-ranging spending cuts, including slashing pensions and civil service jobs. In view of the widespread labor unrest, New Democracy (despite its jubilation at winning over the weekend) will have a rough time implementing reforms. To compound the problem of Greek compliance with the rescue plan, New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras seeks to make changes to the austerity measures.
Germans want, above all, to restore some certainty in this never-ending Greek drama. From Merkel's vantage point, if Athens wishes to stay in the euro, it must wean itself from dependency on German aid, reform its rigid labor laws, and slash its bloated bureaucracy.
If the Greeks do not take those steps, they may find German willingness to keep them in the euro has reached its limit. It was Merkel, after all, who delivered a resounding take-or-it-leave-it proposal when the crisis hit its zenith in mid-May. "The solidarity for the euro will end only if Greece just says, 'We're not keeping to the agreement,'" she declared.