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Germans recoil as Europe seeks more handouts amid debt crisis

German Chancellor Angela Merkel meets with French President Nicolas Sarkozy today to coordinate a strategy for coping with Europe's expanding debt crisis.

By Edmund SandersMcClatchy-Tribune News Service / August 16, 2011

France's President Nicolas Sarkozy welcomes German Chancellor Angela Merkel as she arrives for a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Aug. 16. The leaders of France and Germany meet for high-pressure talks to discuss what further measures they can take to shore up investor confidence in the euro.

Philippe Wojazer/Reuters

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Butzbach, Germany

Germans groaned about bailing out Greece, but reluctantly agreed. They gritted their teeth over Ireland and Portugal, but ponied up.

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Now that Europe's debt crisis is threatening economic giants like Italy, Spain and, most recently, France, everyone is looking to Germany yet again, and one of the key questions is how much patience the German public has left for its less-disciplined neighbors.

Germany's economy shows signs of slowing too, and Chancellor Angela Merkel is facing a backlash from critics in her own political coalition who are calling for her to put the brakes on further bailouts. The country's answer may reshape the 17-nation community that uses the common euro currency. To many, it appears to be a choice between doubling down on its Eurozone bet, or thinking about folding.

"Who will be left to bail out us?" asked law firm office worker Esther Heerz, who lives in this middle-class Frankfurt suburb with her husband, Ralf, and son. The couple have so far supported the government's bailout pledges. But Ralf's recent brush with unemployment served as a reminder that Germany has to worry about its own citizens.

"People were angry about Greece, Ireland, and Portugal, but they are much more worried about Spain and Italy," said Ferdinand Fichtner, chief economist at the Berlin-based German Institute for Economic Research. "This brings a completely new dimension to the problem. Greece was a question of principle, not money. Now it's a question of survival."

Options for stepping away include breaking the Eurozone in two, separating strong countries like Germany from the weak, like Greece and Italy; kicking troubled Southern European nations out entirely; or more dramatically, but less likely, abandoning the euro and reestablishing the German mark.

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