Merkel firmly behind euro, but will she act?

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That could lead Greece to default and force it out of the euro, a move into uncharted territory that could undermine the entire global financial system.

The threat has held little sway in Germany. A poll by the Forsa agency released last week found that 62 percent of Germans want Merkel to stick to her tough line on Greece. And they favor — by 49 percent against 39 — a Greek exit from the common currency.

"I think her commitment to keep the euro alive is very strong, but I think it's not that strong to keep Greece within (it)," said Carsten Brzeski, senior economist at ING in Brussels. "They would like to keep Greece in but ... if Greece wants to go out as a result of the elections, then so be it."

The fact is, the direct effect of a Greek exit on the German economy would be small. Germany's €1.2 billion of first quarter exports to Greece amount to only a tiny fraction of what it sold to Europe as a whole. But Brzeski argues that there are broader risks: there would be a probability of losing billions of euros in German-guaranteed loans for Greece and the heightened danger of bailouts to other troubled countries such as Spain and Italy if Greece pulled out, neither likely to go down well with Germans.

And Merkel faces increasing criticism abroad for over-emphasizing austerity, notably from her longtime partner in fighting the economic crisis: France, which has a new Socialist president. Francois Hollande has rapidly become one of the strongest voices among European leaders pushing measures to boost growth.

One of these measures has been "eurobonds"— jointly issued debt that could be used to fund anything and could eventually replace an individual country's debt. Eurobonds would protect weaker countries by insulating them from the high interest rates they now face when they raise money on bond markets. Those high interest rates are ground zero of the crisis: They forced Greece, Ireland and Portugal to seek bailouts.

In the face of such pressure, Merkel has already shown signs of her other notable trait: pragmatism. She has started to soften her tone lately on promoting growth, hinting she'd be willing to do more as long as it means deeper European integration in the long run.

And there is a possibility that she will make further concessions. Ahead of elections due in Germany next year, the center-left opposition — from which Merkel needs support for her cherished European fiscal pact to be approved by Parliament — has begun demanding pro-growth measures.

Merkel's coalition recently proposed fostering growth by increasing the capital of the European Investment Bank, a development bank that lends money for public projects, using existing EU funds more efficiently and implementing structural reforms — but no more stimulus money.

Concessions aren't likely to include Eurobonds any time soon. They're politically toxic to Merkel's center-right coalition, unloved by other prosperous countries and could run into trouble with Germany's highest court, which has guarded parliament's control over the German budget.

More feasible may be a so-called debt redemption fund along lines proposed last November by the German government's panel of independent economic advisers. That would see a country's debts above 60 percent of GDP transferred to a common redemption fund with joint liability. They would be obliged to pay them off over 20-25 years and would have to pledge part of their foreign exchange or gold reserves as security.

Germany's opposition backs the idea. Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said last week that "significant constitutional and legal concerns" need to be discussed.

Merkel cautioned against expecting a revolutionary "big design" to emerge from an EU leaders' summit at the end of this month.

She cautioned Europeans Thursday against depending too much on Germany's economic might.

"Germany's strength is not infinite," she said Thursday, further dampening expectations of a Berlin-led rescue plan.

Instead, she made clear that she is still playing a long-term game to strengthen the eurozone through more centralized control of how governments run their economies. That will provide little comfort to Greeks hoping for a quick resolution as they head to the polls.