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Many European nations use the euro as currency. All are affected by a debt crisis, but the biggest single player is Europe's biggest economy, Germany. If anyone has the money to help bail out Greece, which is in a lot of trouble, it is the Germans. But the Germans have been reluctant to pay. Amid that reluctance, German lawmakers vote tomorrow on whether to approve more bailout money.
Here's Zoe Chace of NPR's Planet Money Team.
ZOE CHACE: The question of whether Germany should bail out Greece could be simple. Is it Germany's self-interest to do so? German business owners would probably say yes.
THOMAS HUCH: We need very strong countries beside of us.
CHACE: Thomas Huch runs a company that makes storage tanks, based right outside Berlin. He says we need the rest of Europe to be strong 'cause they're our customers.
HUCH: You see, around Germany, we find Poland, we find Italy, Greece, Spain. Germany need the European community to sell their products.
CHACE: Bankers in Germany also say, do it. We've loaned a lot of money to Greece and we want it back. And if the debate in Germany was purely about self-interest, if it were just that kind of argument, the German parliament could use a spreadsheet and figure out whether it's worth the money it would take to keep Greece from defaulting on its debts.
But, oddly enough, this is not where the conversation ends. Turns out, for many Germans, it's beyond self-interest. It's about whether Greece deserves the money. Klaus Frankenberger is an editor with one of Germany's biggest papers, and he says, they don't.
KLAUS FRANKENBERGER: Germany's economic revival came with a price. And we look around and say, what has Italy done? Answer, nothing. What has Spain done? Enjoyed the party. What has Greece done? Deliberately reduced its competitiveness, deliberately inflated the public sector. What has Portugal done? Ruin. And Ireland, and the rest.
CHACE: Not only is it unfair, it's not allowed - according to the treaty that set up the European Union, which Frankenberger happens to keep at his desk.
FRANKENBERGER: Article 125 deliberately rules out the bailout of any member states. That's what it says.
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CHACE: Sixty-six percent of Germans, according to a recent poll, agree with Frankenberger: No bailout. But there's a sizeable number of regular Germans - not business people or bankers - who do want the bailout for Greece to pass. They don't want to tell Greece to go it alone. Not because they'll recoup a financial investment, because they'll recoup an emotional investment.
MAURICE MINOT: We need Greece. We need Greece, we need Spain, we need Italy. It's the dream for Europe peoples; for Germans, for Spain, for French, since more than hundred years. It's a dream.
CHACE: Maurice Minot is a taxi driver in Frankfurt. And I heard this over and over: Germans care about Greece because they care about Europe.
Renate Vilhelm used to live behind the Wall in East Berlin.
RENATE VILHELM: We had a wall behind us against Poland. And now we are friends, and also with France. It is like we are sisters and brothers. It's wonderful.
CHACE: It's not just older Germans who feel this way about Europe. I ran into a 20-year-old in Berlin, draped in an oversized hoodie: Simon Banish.
SIMON BANISH: The idea to create a kind of United States of Europe, it sounds interesting. And for me, it makes sense.
CHACE: Okay, this might sound a little Kumbaya, heal the world. But think about it. Think about Europe, a messy continent with a sea of countries that suffered two enormous brutal wars back to back. Fifty years ago, a little Kumbaya seemed like a really good idea. In fact, that's how this whole project got started in the first place.
HELMUT SCHLESINGER: One cannot forget that the whole strength of having a European Union is based on the fact that we never want to have war between our countries - which we have had so much and so terrible.
CHACE: Helmut Schlesinger is former president of the German Central Bank. He says that from the beginning, in the years immediately following the war, the common currency was seen by some as a way to keep Europe peaceful.
SCHLESINGER: There was a particular slogan from a French economist: there would not be any Europe without the money. Or in other words, the money would make Europe together.
CHACE: More specifically the money would bring Germany and the rest of Europe together. No matter how strong the German economy got, and it was the strongest in Europe in short order, it would never again dominate. With everyone on the same coin, Germany's strength would be Europe's strength.
That's why the bailout question is so agonizing, because it's not simply about self-interest. It's about what Germany wants to be.
Zoe Chace, NPR News.
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