Warm words but little action as Greek and German leaders meet

Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras and German chancellor Angela Merkel put on a public display of mutual goodwill yesterday, appealing to Greeks and Germans to set aside recrimination and national stereotypes and work for a better European future.

Yet despite warm words on the new left-wing prime minister’s first official visit to Berlin, it was unclear if they had narrowed differences on economic reforms that Greece must implement to win urgently needed fresh cash from its creditors. The two leaders were due to discuss the reforms in greater depth over dinner last night.

Mr Tsipras insisted he was not in Germany to solve Greece’s pressing liquidity problems but to find common ground to move forward in the eurozone.

He condemned as an “unjust provocation” a German magazine cover depicting Ms Merkel amid Nazi officers by the Acropolis in Athens. In a rebuke to his own justice minister, he said nobody in Greece was considering seizing or auctioning off German property for war reparations.

“Please, let’s leave these shadows of the past behind us,” Mr Tsipras said, stressing that the EU was a force for stability in a troubled region. “Today’s democratic Germany has nothing to do with the Germany of the Third Reich that took such a toll of blood.”

Ms Merkel said Germany, the biggest population and economy in the EU, considered all European states as equals and wanted good relations with all, including Greece.

She made clear there could be no breakthrough to provide fresh funds for Greece from their talks, since that was up to the 19-nation Eurogroup of eurozone finance ministers. Berlin wanted Greece to restore growth and overcome high unemployment, Ms Merkel said. “For that you need structural reforms, a solid budget, and a functioning administration,” she said.

Mr Tsipras promised eurozone leaders last week he would present a list of reform proposals soon to unlock aid, without which EU officials say Greece may run out of money by late April. His pledge has encountered deep scepticism in Germany.

Outside the chancellery in Berlin, where he and Ms Merkel reviewed an honour guard, Mr Tsipras encountered a friendly crowd trying to put a positive face on bilateral ties. They waved banners with pink hearts proclaiming ‘Germany loves Greece’.

Ms Merkel, accused in Greece of seeking to force more austerity on a devastated economy, was looking for concrete ideas from Mr Tsipras on how to resolve a stand-off over concluding a bailout programme worth €240bn.

The distrust felt by Ms Merkel’s conservatives towards Mr Tsipras’s government is unlikely to be improved by his plans to meet Germany’s opposition radical Left and Greens parties today.



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