Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and German Chancellor Angela Merkel put on a public display of mutual goodwill on Monday, 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 leftist premier’s first official visit to Berlin, it was unclear if they had narrowed differences on economic reforms 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.
Tsipras insisted he was not in Germany to solve Greece’s pressing liquidity problems but to find common ground to move forward in the euro zone.
He condemned as an “unjust provocation” a German magazine cover depicting Merkel amid Nazi officers by the Acropolis in Athens. And in a rebuke to his own justice minister, he said no one in Greece was considering seizing or auctioning off German property for war reparations.
“Please, let’s leave these shadows of the past behind us,” Tsipras said, stressing that the European Union 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.”
Merkel said Germany considered the issue of reparations for the Nazi occupation in World War Two politically and legally resolved, but she was aware of how Greeks had suffered. She hinted that Berlin may increase a fund created last year for youth exchanges, for which parliament has granted 1 million euros a year for three years.
She also said Germany, which has the biggest population and economy in the EU, considered all European states as equals and wanted good relations with all, including Greece.
The chancellor 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 euro zone finance ministers.
Berlin wanted Greece to restore growth and overcome high unemployment, Merkel said, adding: “For that you need structural reforms, a solid budget and a functioning administration.”
Tsipras promised euro zone leaders last week he would present a comprehensive 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, a stickler for fiscal discipline.
But outside the Chancellery in Berlin, where he and Merkel reviewed an honor guard, the Greek prime minister encountered a friendly crowd trying to put a positive face on bilateral ties. They waved banners with pink hearts proclaiming “German loves Greece” and vice-versa and a Greco-German couple kissed.
Merkel, accused in Greece of seeking to force more austerity on a devastated economy, was looking for concrete ideas from the leftist premier on how to resolve the standoff over concluding a bailout program worth 240 billion euros ($260 billion).
Tsipras wrote to her last week warning Greece would find it impossible to make debt payments in the next few weeks without more financial help. He blamed European Central Bank limits on Greece’s ability to issue short-term debt as well as euro zone bailout authorities’ refusal to disburse any cash before Athens adopts new reforms.
Former prime minister Antonis Samaras accused Tsipras of “whining to foreign leaders”. Opposition lawmaker Fofi Gennimata said it was akin to saying “I surrender unconditionally and expect you to save me with a third bailout”.
ECB chief Mario Draghi said he was ready to start accepting Greek bonds again as collateral for lending to Greek banks as soon as conditions were in place for the successful conclusion of a review of the bailout program.
The distrust felt by Merkel’s conservatives toward Tsipras’ government – and especially his unruly Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis – was unlikely to be improved by his plans to meet Germany’s opposition radical Left and Greens parties on Tuesday.