Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras had been expected to make his case for more time to meet austerity targets in his meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Friday. Samaras has said he wants an additional two years, until 2016, to trim 11.5 billion ($14.3 billion) from the Greek budget.
But if Samaras had been hoping for quick concessions from Berlin, he didn't get them. Although Merkel reassured Samaras that she wanted Greece "to stay in the euro zone," she gave no sign of wanting to grant Athens more time to meet the terms of the bailout.
Merkel did, however, say that Germany would not "make premature judgments" about Greece's reform efforts, but would await "reliable evidence," a reference to the report by the so-called troika -- made up of officials from the the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund -- which is expected in September or October. "We know that great sacrifices are being demanded from Greece's citizens," Merkel said, adding that Berlin supported the efforts of the new Greek government under Samaras.
'A Proud People'
After the meeting, Samaras promised that Greece would fulfill its commitments. "We are a proud people, and we do not want to be dependent on borrowed money," he said. He repeated his argument, made to German newspapers this week, that Greece needs "breathing space" so it can return to economic growth. However, he also noted that he and Merkel had not discussed an extension of the austerity targets for Greece in concrete terms.
Merkel, who is facing national elections in Germany next year, is unlikely to budge on loosening the terms of the bailout deal. There is considerable opposition within her coalition government to giving Athens any more money, and the voices in Germany calling for Greece to leave the euro zone are getting louder.
Ahead of the meeting, Volker Kauder, the head of the conservatives' parliamentary group, had taken a tough tone against Greece in comments to the German television station ZDF. "We can't make more money available," he said. He argued that the euro zone could withstand a Greek exit, saying he assumed "it would be no problem for the euro."
At the Friday press conference with Merkel, Samaras criticized talk about Greece's leaving the euro, saying it deterred investors and made the work of his government more difficult.
Samaras flies to Paris on Saturday to make his plea for time to French President François Hollande, but he won't likely have much success there, either. Merkel and Hollande met Thursday in Berlin to coordinate their response to the crisis and agreed to take a unified approach.
On Friday, commentators in German newspapers also agree that Berlin should take a hard line with Greece.
The business daily Financial Times Deutschland writes:
"Greece should stay in the euro zone, and the drachma should remain a currency that only exists in the history books. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble is allowing no doubts about this position."
"The signals from Greece are encouraging. Greeks are working to cut spending harder than most other EU countries. They have committed to a radical reform of their pension system, taken up the fight against tax fraud and are cutting their bloated bureaucracy. Still, Greece is stumbling when it comes to privatization, and a faltering economy is lowering tax revenues more than was hoped. So, doubts still remain, and a 'Grexit' isn't out of the question."
"Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has his hands full carrying out the brutal reform program in his country. He should be able to bring home a message of political support from Berlin. But he will also bring home a message of pressure (from European leaders) telling the Greeks not to give up on their efforts and to stand by their promised deadlines."
"Dutch Finance Minister Jan Kees de Jager finds Samaras' desire to have more time for reforms 'not a good idea.' One can only agree with that, especially before the troika's next report has been presented."
The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
"Now pressure is on the politicians for a decision, with the troika set to put the facts on the table by October at the latest. Until then, German Chancellor Angela Merkel will barely move her 'iron chancellor' mask. That's why Greek Prime Minister Samaras will leave Berlin for Paris with empty hands."
"Even if they wanted to, European leaders couldn't just wave through a third aid package for Greece because the International Monetary Fund does not want to keep throwing more money into the bottomless Greek pit . Never before has the IMF given so much credit to a country with such little success."
Business daily Handelsblatt writes:
"Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras does not tire of making new demands. Now he wants more time, for the health of his economy. Not more money, only more time -- at least according to his requests to Berlin and Brussels. And, in Berlin and Brussels, there will be much discussion about whether Greece should be granted more time."
"Our instinctive reaction regarding Samaras' request is, well, that could be something. Given the near 40 degree Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) temperatures that Germany experienced last weekend, we can empathize with Greek lethargy."
"But is the Greek prime minister right? Is time instead of money really better? I say no."
"We have known for a long time that time is money. Perhaps Angela Merkel will also say that to the Greeks. Despite the hot and sweaty 40-degree temperatures, there will be no more days off."
The left-leaning Berliner Zeitung writes:
"Winds in the country are changing. Only a little, but noticeably. Those who had promised Greece extra money are backtracking. The strongest sign of that is Angela Merkel, who is receiving Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras as an honored guest of the Chancellery. She will listen to him, she will discuss things with him, but she will not set a precedent."
"It's a sign that Merkel's center-right Christian Democratic Union is not giving up on trying to go for votes with a euro-skeptical tone, which is much easier than arguing for the European project."
"It is becoming clearer to people that the current crisis isn't just about the euro. In the end, it's also about nothing less than peace, freedom and the well-being of Europeans -- in other words, our way of life. The reception of Samaras in the Chancellery is part of this way of life: the civil, friendly exchange between neighboring countries in a time of emergency. That is also Europe, a value-based community where people speak with each other and not about each other. What a signal it would be, though, if Merkel were to travel to Athens!"
-- Renuka Rayasam
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