The relations between Greece and Germany that were strained during last decade’s debt crisis dominated talks of Chancellor Angela Merkel in Athens on Friday.
Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis reminded Merkel of the austerity Germany imposed on Greece. “You admitted that you asked a lot from the Greeks,” the Prime Minister noted during a joint press conference.
“Europe and Greece were tested by wrong decisions that came back against them disguised as populism and demagogy,” he said, adding that “fortunately neither the cheap austerity nor the cheap national slogans endured. EU solidarity and true patriotism came out victorious in the end.”
Germany was the largest single contributor to three successive international bailout packages Greece received from 2010 to 2018. But the rescue loans came with strings attached.
Greece’s economy was put under strict supervision and a series of deeply-resented reforms were imposed, including repeated tax hikes and cuts in pensions, salaries and public spending for everything from health care to infrastructure.
“Angela Merkel has been the voice of reason and stability. Perhaps, unfair at times, but decisive as in 2015 when she stopped the expulsion of Greece from Europe,” Mitsotakis added.
The Chancellor described relations between Greece and Germany over the last decade as “lively.” She acknowledged the “excessive burden” imposed on Greece by austerity.
“I personally was fully aware of the excessive burden and the challenge that this meant for the people in Greece. In the end, we managed to find a common path, a common step for Greece to remain a member of the EU,” Merkel said.
Earlier on Friday, Merkel met Greece’s president, Katerina Sakellaropoulou, who also referred to the “dark” years of austerity and bailouts.
“Greece felt alone” Greek President tells Merkel
“There were times of difficulty and tension,” Sakellaropoulou told Merkel, referring to relations between two countries. “The financial crisis that many countries of Europe faced put mainly Greece, which was called on to pay a heavy price, in a difficult position. It was an unprecedented situation… and Greece felt — we justifiably, often, felt alone.”
Merkel responded to the Greek president that “you referred to our relations which went through some ups and downs, but are based on strong foundations. Dialogue was always the key to searching for and finding a solution.”
She said there had been varied challenges, including the destabilization of the euro “and the reforms that had to happen in all countries and in Greece,” and also touched briefly on the migration issue for Europe.
“What gave us strength in this period was the fact that we always had the feeling we belong together,” Merkel said. “And I believe this is the basic feeling we must have.”
Greece calls on EU to adopt tougher line on Turkey
Mitsotakis urged the European Union to take a tougher line on Turkey during the press conference with Merkel.
“Western moderation often seems to encourage Turkey’s arbitrary behavior,” Mitsotakis said. “It’s time for European principles to translate into European practice,” he urged.
He added that Greece wants to have good relations with its neighbors on the basis of international law. “(Greece); however, will not tolerate threats to its (sovereign) rights,” he said.
In her comments, Merkel agreed with Mitsotakis that Greece’s problems with Turkey were also a problem for Europe – as exemplified by the migration issue.
However, she added that a full consensus on all issues was not always possible.