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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Germans, Mark Not Easily Parted

LONDON -- Germany may be in the driver's seat in the rush toward a single European currency, but most Germans still hate the thought of parting with the mark, their trusted companion of almost 50 years.


Reactions to the euro are mixed across Europe, ranging from enthusiasm in the Netherlands to the cold-shouldered aloofness of Denmark or the tortured indecision of Britain.


Yet the acceptance gap between politicians and people is nowhere more pronounced than in Germany, where opinion polls show that euro-doubters make up two-thirds of the population.


Psychology holds the key to this reluctance, rooted in the dominant role the mark has played in shaping Germany's self-image after World War II, analysts said.


"The mark symbolizes German identity and has filled the symbolic vacuum this country experienced after the war," said Susanne Klunkert, a political scientist who specializes in European affairs at the University of Bonn.


"The symbolic value of the mark is so deeply ingrained in the German psyche that ... the euro and rational arguments in its favor are not being accepted," she said.


The mark has come to embody both the successful rebuilding of Germany and its reintegration into both the world economy and community of nations after World War II, analysts say.


With German monetary policy aimed at stamping out inflationary excesses, the German currency also became a symbol of sound money.


Now, the country's self-image is polarized between the satisfaction of having created Europe's most powerful economy and a nagging anxiety about how Germany is seen in the world.


Moreover, Germans worry the euro will be softer than the mark, as countries with a less sound economic and monetary history want to be part of the single currency club.


Such concern has been exacerbated by the insistence of German politicians and the Bundesbank that the criteria for membership of the single currency must not be softened.


Now that even Germany and France, the stalwarts of monetary union, might not fulfill all the criteria, it is generally assumed the leeway implicit in the Maastricht Treaty on European Union will be used.


"It's an added problem in accepting the euro that German politicians and the Bundesbank insist much more than anyone else in Europe on a tough interpretation of the Maastricht criteria," said Hans Jaeckel, senior economist at DG Bank in Frankfurt.


"This has contributed to fears in the population the euro will not be as hard as the mark," he added.


Euro angst combines with a stubborn lack of knowledge among the general public about the nuts and bolts of monetary union.


Psychological considerations work both ways -- for and against the euro -- as countries fear the loss of independence but don't want to be left out either, analysts said.


"EMU is peddled as a political nostrum to cure all ailments," Pedro Schwartz, chief economist at stockbroker Fincorp AV in Madrid, said in a recent lecture to the Institute of Economic Affairs in London.


And the anxieties are as plentiful as the number of countries wanting to join.


"The Germans want the union to stop them from falling into Nazi ways," said Schwartz. "The French want to be cured of an inferiority complex. The Italians want to become a nation. The Spaniards want to bury Franco. The Portuguese want to be French. The Greeks don't want to be Turks."