BERLIN — Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and German Chancellor sought March 23 to reboot an increasingly sour relationship, saying they are looking for ways to help Athens reach a deal with creditors that will keep it from falling out of the euro.
In his first visit to Germany since coming to power in January, Tsipras sounded a conciliatory note — though he stopped short of promising anything concrete on reforms that creditors like Germany want to see before they pay more money.
Greece urgently needs more funds as it faces a cash crunch within weeks.
Amid increased tensions between Greece and Germany in recent weeks over the bailout talks, Tsipras said Merkel had invited him in a phone call to come to Berlin, telling him “it is better to talk with one another than about one another.”
“I did not come here to ask for financial help,” Tsipras told reporters after meeting with Merkel behind closed doors for more than an hour. “I came for an exchange of our thoughts and opinions, to see where there is common ground and where there is disagreement.”
He characterized the talks as “positive,” saying that he found Merkel “listens and wants to be constructive in the exchange of opinons.”
Merkel was careful to point out Germany was only one of the eurozone nations that would be responsible for deciding whether Greece’s reforms are sufficient, and said no decisions had been made in her talks with Tsipras.
“Today we can only talk about things,” she said, characterizing the meetings as being held in “a spirit of trust.”
The two were to continue their discussions over dinner following the press briefing.
Tsipras’ first weeks in office have been marked by tensions between the two governments’ contrasting approaches to Greece’s debt crisis and over Athens’ revival of calls for World War II reparations from Berlin.
Tsipras’ left-wing SYRIZA party won after campaigning against the spending cuts favored by Germany in exchange for 240 billion euros ($260 billion) in international bailout money.
His new government agreed a month ago to push through reforms in exchange for keeping European Union aid flowing, but has delayed submitting the measures for approval.
A full reform list should be presented “by early next week,” Greek government spokesman Gavriil Sakellaridis told private Mega television. He insisted that “the Greek government will not take any recessionary measures” that will weigh down the country’s troubled economy.
German officials have complained about their Greek counterparts making commitments and then publicly casting doubt on them, but also insist the debt spat isn’t a bilateral matter.
German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel told ARD television he hopes for a “new beginning” in relations.
“The Greek government must clearly recognize that the rest of Europe, Germany too, wants to help. But that we cannot do that without something in return, without fair agreements on the necessary reforms,” he said — though he agreed that the “social hardship is huge” in Greece and must be addressed.
Merkel’s governing coalition insists talk of wartime reparations has no place in discussions of Greece’s current debt troubles. Greece, however, believes it is due payments for its wrecked infrastructure, war crimes and a loan that occupied Greece was forced to make to the Nazis.
German officials say the matter has been resolved through previous payments and agreements.
The two countries’ foreign ministers met March 22 and agreed to work on strengthening relations. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the debt crisis must not be allowed to “erode the strong foundations of German-Greek relations.”
Greek counterpart Nikos Kotzias, in an interview with German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung, advocated creating a German-Greek panel of experts to examine the reparations issue — but Germany promptly made clear that it isn’t interested.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer reiterated that “for us, the chapter of reparations is politically and legally concluded.”
Gabriel said “it makes no sense to make an attempt now to exert moral pressure on Germany along the lines of, ‘You must accommodate us more on the question of the euro and in the debt crisis.'”
“The two things have nothing to do with each other,” he added.
The Parliamentary Chief Whip of Merkel’s conservatives, Michael Grosse-Broemer, was blunter. “The reparations demands were another distraction from Greece to divert attention from their own failings,” Grosse-Broemer told Deutschlandfunk radio.
By David Rising and Geir Moulson. Derek Gatopoulos in Athens contributed to this report