Dear Greeks and Italians,
It's already the second year of the euro crisis, during which we have had some hefty rows. Unfortunately Europe is organised so that only politicians tend to meet up and negotiate. But it's time we citizens communicated directly with each other. That's why I'm writing this letter, to explain to you why the Germans feel so bad about Europe at the moment.
You may understand why the events of the past weeks have irritated us so much. At a time when our parliament is debating a huge rescue package for you - which if used will be a burden on our children - we have the impression that your governments are not keeping their end of the deal. Greece has barely started to reform its public sector, even though it is obvious that its bureaucracy cannot be sustained, that it blocks competition and hands out jobs to party cronies. Privatisation is sluggish too. Little wonder that the EU team, supposed to monitor Greek progress, left in a huff.
We see something similar happening in Italy. First it promised reform to calm the markets. But when the pressure eased, the most important measures were promptly dropped. Sure, some were reinstated after EU pressure. But maybe you can understand why we feel duped. More and more Germans are posing a simple question: why should we bail you out when you are not prepared to do more?
I'm not writing this out of meanness or arrogance. Rather, because I'm worried that the patience of my fellow countrymen is coming to an end and that they will force politicians to cut off the cash flow. I really don't want all south Europeans to become German clones. I value too much the colour that you bring to Europe and to my family.
I am married to an Italian; we spend our summer holidays there so that the children learn the language of their mother. And I'm grateful too for the warm welcome extended to me by Greek relatives when my cousin married into an Athens family. The family patriarch was particularly sensitive when he recounted his experiences of living under German occupation. Those are the moments that teach humility to a German.
Even so, I understand why my fellow Germans ask why they have to shoulder the costs of the rescue package. We too have piled up debts that will be difficult for our shrinking population to handle, so there have to be good reasons for us to take over the debts of others. Preserving our common Europe is one such reason. But you would make it easier for us if we felt you were also making demands of yourselves.
Everyone knows that you are not just spending too much; you are also taking too little in, because you make it too easy for the self-employed to duck out of paying taxes. But why should we be financing your tax dodgers? The unions in Italy are defending their privileges, making the country so sclerotic that it has registered almost no growth for a decade while the richest man in Italy protects the rich. Its politicians are not prepared to take serious pay cuts although they are among the highest- paid parliamentarians in Europe.
You give the impression of being societies incapable of sacrifice on behalf of the greater good. Yet this is exactly what you are demanding from us in the name of European solidarity.
So I would like to propose a pact. We will try to get you through the difficult times but only if you honour your end of the deal - namely, your politicians stop blaming "speculators" and accept that the root cause lies in decades of irresponsible politics.
You will emerge stronger out of this crisis only if you break open your encrusted systems, rein back the many privileges and sectional interests and crack down on tax evasion. That is the task for your politicians and for every citizen. That means, for example, demanding a receipt every time you visit a doctor, go to the hairdresser or buy a newspaper.
There are still many well-wishing Germans. We don't want to leave you alone with your problems. We want a better, fitter Greece and Italy. We want you to release the enormous creative potential of your peoples. That will only happen if you abandon the old ways.
We are ready to help you. But you have to help yourselves out of the crisis.
Clemens Wergin is an editor for Die Welt. He invites readers and citizens to comment and debate on his Flatworld blog.