Merkel to visit heart of crisis

Merkel to visit heart of crisis

BERLIN - Agence France-Presse
Merkel to visit heart of crisis

Pensioners shout slogans against the EU and the government during a march towards the EU offices in central Athens. REUTERS photo

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is set to travel to Greece today with a message of support for the “ambitious” cuts already in place in Athens but also encouragement to maintain the efforts, her spokesman said.

“She is going to Greece to express her support for the ambitious reform efforts that the Greeks have set out and are -- in part -- beginning to implement,” Steffen Seibert told a regular news conference yesterday.

“We should not forget -- and I think this is sometimes forgotten in Germany -- that Greece can point to some successes when it comes to reducing the deficit through very difficult measures,” added the spokesman.

He cited Greece’s primary deficit, which has dropped from 11 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) to 2.5 percent in two years, a double-digit decline in unit labour costs and a dip in its current account deficit.

“These are measures that deserve our respect and we know that they have only been achieved in Greece through harsh sacrifices,” he said.

“So the chancellor is expressing her support via this visit but will only be pointing to the efforts that still need to be made,” he added.

He reiterated Germany’s position that Berlin wanted the Greeks to remain in the eurozone but that they had to stick to the promises made to international creditors in a so-called memorandum of understanding.

Merkel travels to Greece today for the first time since the eurozone debt crisis broke out three years ago for talks with her counterpart Antonis Samaras and the country’s president, Carolos Papoulias.

Meeting with businessmen

Samaras and Merkel would also meet representatives of the Greek and German business communities during her trip, Seibert announced.

Security will be tight for the visit, amid threatened protests and strikes against the visit of Merkel, a hate figure for many in Greece who see her as the main driving force behind austerity demands that have severely harmed the Greek economy.

About 6,500 police, backed by water cannon and a helicopter, will be on the streets for the trip alongside about 300 members of the coastguard, and Athens city centre will be sealed off, a police source said on yesterday.

“Europe is in an existential crisis. And we all know that we can only solve it together. And therefore we need discussions and those discussions are not only best done over the phone,” Merkel’s spokesman said.