Germans suspicious of Greece’s reform plans

Angela Merkel and Alexis Tsipras have sought to play down the drama of the Greek leader’s first official visit to Berlin today.

However, open scepticism among the chancellor’s allies has spawned media portrayals of a Western-style showdown.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, German media have cast Greece’s leftist prime minister as the outlaw and the conservative German chancellor as a sheriff fighting to keep the eurozone together.

“When the Greek outlaw Alexis Tsipras meets Angela Merkel — seen as all-powerful in many countries — all of Europe will be watching spellbound,” wrote Welt am Sonntag.The Frankfurter Allgemeine reminded Tsipras that the EU “is not the Wild West”.

Sticking to the Wild West imagery, a cartoon in Greece’s To Vima newspaper depicted a sweating Tsipras in dungarees pumping an old-fashioned railway handcar uphill while Merkel timed him.

Both leaders would be aghast at this confrontation scenario.

Although Merkel acknowledged last week that she and Tsipras would talk “and perhaps also argue”, she said it would not be a defining moment in the standoff between Athens and its eurozone creditors over the terms of its €240bn bailout deals.

Tsipras told Greek newspaper Kathimerini he saw their talks, which will include a joint news conference at 6.15pm local time today, as “a meeting that will not be ‘under pressure’ from negotiations”.

At last week’s EU summit, Greece promised to meet creditors’ demands to present an economic reform package within days to unlock the cash it needs to avoid crashing out of the euro — a dire prospect for Germany, the currency zone’s largest economy.

Despite Merkel’s assurances that she did not expect Tsipras to bring these commitments in his briefcase to Berlin, her own coalition upped the ante by demanding precisely that.

German politicians are openly sceptical about Greece’s new leaders, none more so than 72-year-old finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble who has clashed repeatedly with his unruly 53-year-old Greek peer Yanis Varoufakis. Schaeuble says Athens has “totally destroyed the trust of its European partners”.

“It would be good if Tsipras can convince the chancellor [today] that he grasps the seriousness of the situation,” Markus Soeder, Bavaria’s conservative state finance minister said. “So far, Greece has promised but not delivered.”

“I expect [Tsipras] to present this list in his talks with the chancellor ,” Thomas Oppermann, parliamentary leader of Merkel’s Social Democrat coalition partners said. “I want to know once and for all if Greece is ready to reform or not.”

With Berlin braced for Greece coming back for yet more aid in a matter of months, Merkel’s supporters look unlikely to OK a third bailout without real evidence of progress on reforms. “Nothing will happen if the Greek government is not crystal-clear in its willingness to reform,” said Oppermann.

The Greek government’s revival of reparation claims from the Nazi occupation in the Second World War has added to the Greco-German tensions.

Germany is conscious of its historical responsibility but reluctant to link this to eurozone policy.

Reuters


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