ATHENS – Everything is all warm and fuzzy now between outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Greece, although she was a demanding taskmaster insisting on austerity measures as part of international bailouts backed partially by banks in her country.
For all that, during a visit to the Greek capital she was praised by Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis – their parties both belong to the center-right European People’s Party – although she admitted being very tough on Greeks.
It was workers, pensioners and the poor who bore the brunt of an economy that shrank some 25 percent between 2010-2018 despite three rescue packages totaling 326 billion euros ($377.72 billion.)
Those failed to slow Greece’s descent into debt hell, how much the country owes – including to the Troika of the European Union-European Central Bank-European Stability Mechanism (EU-ECB-ESM) rising by the second.
Merkel insisted on big pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and worker firings, as well as diluting workers rights to protect German bank investments – they scored big profits off Greece’s austerity.
She said it was also necessary to protect the Eurozone as former premier and then-ruling Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras threatened to take Greece out over austerity before she brought him back in line.
“We were all extremely shocked at how vulnerable the euro was to external pressures… and this hit the countries with the highest debt and which did not implement significantly, on the level of reforms, everything they should have implemented,” she added, said Kathimerini.
She said for all that she was aware that she “demanded a lot,” although it made her persona non grata for most Greeks who virulently protested when she came to Athens at the worst of the economic crisis.
She said that she was committed to keeping Greece in the Eurozone. In the end “We managed to find a common course, a common step,” although it wreaked havoc on Greek society.
“I said that the efficiency of our economic system should be comparable, otherwise we could not keep the common currency alive,” she added, as she dealt with a number of Greek governments during the crisis.
Mitsotakis, who is the eighth Greek premier to work with Merkel, said, “Europe and Greece were tested by wrong decisions, which turned against them in the guise of populism and demagoguery.”
“Merkel was the voice of reason and stability. Sometimes unfair, but decisive, as she was in 2015, when she rejected the expulsion of Greece from Europe,” he stressed.
“I had the opportunity to see at the summits, where the Chancellor not only suggests solutions, but shapes them,” he said, although he said that austerity “cannot be the answer to everything.”
He said that Greece has emerged as “a modern state,” although the debt is still at levels he called unsustainable before taking power and it will take Greece decades to repay the Troika, while still under the thumb of surveillance.