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Politics

Chancellor Merkel Pays a Highly Symbolic Visit to Greece

October 29, 2021

ΑΤΗΕNS — German Chancellor Angela Merkel paid a highly symbolic visit to Greece on Thursday and Friday.

Merkel visited Greece following an invitation addressed to her by Mitsotakis during the EU-Western Balkans Summit in Slovenia. Merkel landed in Athens on the evening of a Greek national holiday marking the day in 1940 when the country rejected an ultimatum by Fascist Italy to allow Axis troops to enter Greece. The decision led to Greece entering World War II, fighting a far stronger adversary and eventually suffering a brutal occupation by Nazi Germany.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was hosting Merkel for dinner after her arrival, ahead of official meetings on Friday with him and Greece’s President Katerina Sakellaropoulou.

“The Chancellor is grateful that she has received this invitation from (Mitsotakis). She is looking forward to her visit to Athens and to the talks there,” Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters in Berlin Wednesday.

The German leader will begin her official visit on Friday with an address to young people at the Goethe Institute at 09:00. She will then meet with Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou at the Presidential Mansion at 10:15, and with Mitsotakis at Maximos Mansion at 10:50, before making joint statements to the press.

According to government sources, Merkel’s visit to Athens marks a turning point both for the balances within the EU, but also for Greece, which is moving forward.

Bilateral relations were to be discussed, as well as Greek-Turkish and Euro-Turkish relations after the latest developments and the ongoing Turkish provocation in the Eastern Mediterranean. They were also to discuss the migration issue, the situation in Libya, but also the moves made by Greece in the energy sector, with the most recent example being the signing of an agreement with Egypt on electricity interconnection.

The talks will also focus on bilateral economic relations, as well as the European debate on fiscal rules that will meet the challenges of the times and the new reality created by the pandemic.

Greek police has introduced traffic restrictions for the visit on Friday, diverting traffic.

Relations between Greece and Germany were often thorny in past years, particularly during Greece’s severe, decade-long financial crisis which saw a quarter of the country’s economy wiped out and Greece almost crashing out of the euro, the joint currency used by many European Union members.

Germany was the largest single contributor to three successive international bailout packages Greece received from 2010 to 2018 after its dire finances locked it out of bond markets, meaning it could not raise funds on its own.

But the rescue loans came with strings attached, with Greece’s economy put under strict supervision by the eurozone, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. 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.

While the Greek economy had suffered years of poor management and the overspending of public money which contributed to its dire financial predicament and triggered the crisis, the terms imposed in return for the rescue was particularly harsh.

Many Greeks blamed Merkel — and her finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble — for the enforced austerity which led to plummeting living standards, soaring unemployment and an economic depression. The jobless rate reached 28%, with youth unemployment exceeding 60%.

But as the country’s financial situation gradually improved, so too did relations with Germany, and the general public sentiment toward Merkel herself.

The German chancellor last visited Athens in January 2019, in the tail-end of the government of Alexis Tsipras, the leftist politician who had once famously declared during a campaign speech: “Go back, Mrs. Merkel!”

During her 2019 visit, the two countries put years of tension behind them, with Merkel praising Greece’s improvement in its finances and Tsipras saying that “the difficulties now lie behind us.”

During her current visit, talks are likely to focus more on geopolitics than finances, with Greece at loggerheads with neighboring Turkey over a series of issues, including territorial disputes and drilling rights in the eastern Mediterranean.

Speaking in Berlin, Seibert said Germany was “convinced … that good neighborly relations between Greece and Turkey are important and beneficial not only for these two countries, but actually for all of Europe.”

Solutions, he said, “can only be found through talks, in dialogue and in a spirit of mutual respect. The Chancellor also made this clear during her recent talks in Turkey.”

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