5th Mar 2024

Merkel and Tsipras hold friendly meeting, problems remain

  • Merkel and Alexis struck a conciliatory note in Berlin (Photo: Bundesregierung)

A meeting of Greek and German leaders on Monday (23 March) saw little change in substance on how to deal with Greece's debt, but the tone was conciliatory, including on the difficult issue of WWII reparations.

Following weeks of sniping between the two capitals, Greek leader Alexis Tsipras was on a charm offensive.

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He made a joke about bringing nice Greek weather to Berlin, promised to push ahead with reforms, and said German chancellor Angela Merkel is someone who "listened" to people.

"We have to understand one another. Dialogue is the only way".

For her part, Merkel emphasized the two countries’ "close friendship". She noted that many Germans love to holiday in Greece and said the many Greeks who live in Germany have formed a "living bridge" between "our two peoples".

She also noted, on several occasions, that Germany is just one of 19 euro states and that each of them is "just as important" as the others - comments aimed at the entrenched impression in Greece that Berlin calls the shots and is solely responsible for austerity.

The chancellor said all of Greece’ creditors, not just Germany, will have to decide whether Athens is doing enough to receive a €7.2 billon tranche of bailout money.

She added that so long as the sums add up, Greece has leeway on which reforms to choose.

Both politicians sought to undo the damage of recent weeks.

The rhetoric at one point saw German ministers say Greece might leave the euro by accident, and Greek ministers threaten to repossess German property or to send thousands of migrants to Berlin.

"This European Union is so precious that we have to make all efforts to develop it further," said Merkel.

Tsipras dismissed talk of seizing German-owned property - such as the Goethe Institute - in Greece.

He did raise the painful issue of WWII reparations, but his tone was less strident than when he spoke in the Greek parliament earlier this month.

"We have to shed light on the shadows of the past," the left-wing politician said, referring directly to a forced loan which Nazi Germany took from Greece's central bank in 1943.

"That is not primarily a material question but an ethical and moral problem," he added.

Merkel said the question of reparations is “politically and legally closed".

She added that Germany is "conscious of the cruelties we carried out" and that this "injustice and suffering" is perhaps "not as present as it should be for many Germans".

The meeting appeared to bode well for future dialogue between Greece and its eurozone partners, but outstanding problems remain.

The debt-ridden country is running out of cash - some say as early as next month. But its creditors are refusing to release money until it comes up with a list of reforms. Following a meeting last week with key eurozone figures, it promised to produce the list in the next couple of days.

Tsipras came to power two months ago promising to end austerity and to reduce the country's debt. Since then, the two sides have been stuck in an impasse.

Speaking in Berlin, Merkel said the German government wants Greece to restore growth, but she noted: "For that you need structural reforms, a solid budget, and a functioning administration”.

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