Nikolas Blome is one of the most powerful journalists in Europe. Chief political correspondent and deputy editor of Bild, continental Europe’s most widely read daily newspaper, he commissions stories that attract some 12 million readers.
Few newspapers have been as influential in shaping German public opinion as the tabloid-style Bild, which has run inflammatory headlines and colorful front page articles about Greek waste and corruption that are deeply skeptical of Europe’s rescue attempts.
“Greece is one of the most important issues we’ve dealt with in the last couple of years and because it affects the euro it’s an issue that touches everyone,» said Blome, 48, who defends his conservative political views in a weekly TV talk show.
He bristled at the suggestion that Bild has tackled Greece harder than other newspapers in Germany. «It’s not just a topic for Bild newspaper. It’s a topic for every newspaper.”
Bild began reporting extensively about Greece early, running heavy coverage two years ago that some analysts say reinforced the German government’s initial reluctance to intervene in the country’s meltdown.
For Germans who have seen many of their social welfare benefits scrapped in a decade of belt-tightening, stories about Greek tax dodgers and pensions paid for years to dead people were incendiary. Bild’s articles stoked public anger in Germany and fuelled taxpayer opposition to big bailout cheques.
“We were skeptical from the very start. The essential problem is that new multi-billion-euro rescue packages are only short-term help. In my mind the problem won’t be fixed with constant rescue programs,» Blome said.
The paper, he said, has a «clear editorial consensus that Greece is not going to be rescued the way this is going and that it should probably leave the eurozone at least for the time being. Greece needs a currency devaluation, a new currency, a new drachma. That’s the fastest and best way to restore the country’s competitiveness. That’s a view shared by everyone at the paper.”
Bild has given a lot of space to Hans Werner Sinn, president of the Ifo institute think tank and a leading economist who regularly calls for Greece to leave the eurozone. Once isolated and viewed as somewhat absurd — Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble criticized his opinions as nonsense — Sinn’s views are more mainstream now, thanks in part to Bild.
The paper’s coverage has also touched on the comical. Stories demanding that Greece sell its islands and its Acropolis to raise money made it into newspapers and broadcasts in scores of different languages around the world and prompted several German politicians to demand Greece sell public assets.
“We didn’t want to make fun of the Greeks with that story but we wanted to point out in a striking way what the problem is,» Blome said. «If you’re serious about reducing debts, then start privatizing. Then you’ve got to sell off public assets, just like other countries are doing. But Greek politicians felt that we were attacking their sovereignty. What nonsense!”
Blome, whose earlier career took him to Brussels as a correspondent, said many political leaders in Germany agree with Bild’s take.
“There are a lot of people (in the government) who tell us privately that in the long or short term Greece is going to have to leave the eurozone. The government’s official policy is, of course, different.”
Blome said he and Bild editors realize a Greek exit from the eurozone could well lead to more turbulence — one of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s main arguments against it — but believes the current proposals won’t work.
Bild, he said, is no more campaigning than any other German newspaper.
“I can’t really identify with that ‘campaign’ accusation,» he said. «What’s true is that we’ve tackled this issue a lot and we have a clear opinion. If that’s a campaign, go ahead and call it that. But also call the coverage of the (conservative) Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung a campaign, and the same goes for the (liberal) Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, and Der Spiegel magazine.”
Whatever else, Blome hopes Greece gets back on its feet.