Greece Braces for Visit by Merkel October 9, 2012Posted by Yilan in EU, European Union, Germany, Yunanistan.
Tags: Angela Merkel, Antonis Samaras, Athens, EU, Euro, German Chancellor, Germany, Greece, Greeks, Prime minister
The Greek capital was bracing for a security clampdown as Prime Minister Antonis Samaras welcomed German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday on her first visit to Athens since the debt crisis began.
In a sign of the reception Ms. Merkel is likely to receive on her seven-hour stopover in the Greek capital, several thousand demonstrators gathered in the city’s main Syntagma Square on Monday evening, blaring revolutionary music from loudspeakers and holding banners decrying planned government austerity measures, which many Greeks blame on Ms. Merkel.
One banner, modeled on the German flag and written in German, read: “Angela don’t cry. There is nothing left in the larder to take.”
Fearing wider protests will cast a shadow on the leaders’ effort to promote an image of renewed solidarity, police were expected to dispatch some 7,000 officers, coast-guard personnel, sharpshooters and navy divers, in what is being billed as the biggest security operation since then-President Bill Clinton came in late 1999.
The police presence will be bolstered by six-foot-high metal barriers outside Parliament, two police helicopters, and 10 extra riot-police units—with a water cannon on standby, according to state-owned television. Police have banned all gatherings Tuesday in a one-square-kilometer area encompassing the prime minister’s office and the German Embassy, while staff inside Greece’s tightly guarded Parliament building have been told not to show up for work.
Many analysts expect the chancellor to reaffirm Greece’s place inside the euro zone—something that looked in doubt just a few months ago—and express her sympathy for the sacrifices made by Greeks in an austerity push that has driven the economy into a five-year recession and unemployment to record highs.
The visit comes amid a recent thaw in relations between Ms. Merkel and Mr. Samaras—a longtime critic of the austerity measures that are a quid pro quo for Greece’s latest €173 billion ($224.3 billion) bailout—whom Ms. Merkel blamed for undermining the previous government’s reform efforts.
But since coming to office in June at the head of a three-way coalition, Mr. Samaras has changed tack and now supports the bailout, something that has won him the backing of the German chancellor.
Ms. Merkel—facing a German electorate deeply skeptical over Greece’s bailout—is expected to renew her warnings to Greece that it must abide by its reform program. Few expect her to offer any specific proposals to ease the pain of Greece’s adjustment.
“The fact that she is coming to Athens now is an indication that she sees Greece’s future in the euro zone and she’s not about to pull the plug on support,” said David Lea, a London-based analyst at Control Risks, an independent risk-consulting firm in London. “I don’t think any concrete measures will come out of it,” he added. “It’s more of a symbolic visit.”
Her visit also comes as Greece remains locked in negotiations with a visiting troika of international inspectors from the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank on some €13.5 billion worth of austerity measures the country must take over the next two years to cut its budget deficit.
An agreement on those measures, as well as other structural reforms, are a precondition for Greece to receive the next tranche of aid promised under the terms of its bailout. If it doesn’t receive that next 31.5 billion aid tranche, the Greek government risks running out of money in November.
Although the details of the austerity package are still being negotiated, the measures are expected to bite deeply, slashing pensions across the board and further paring back wages and bonuses in the public sector. In the face of those cutbacks, most Greeks view Ms. Merkel’s visit as a mixed-blessing.
“Merkel’s visit is clearly provocative,” said 52-year-old telecommunications worker Antonis Panagiotakopoulos, who was participating in Monday’s protest, saying her visit had more to do with German elections set for next year than her interest in the fate of Greeks. “She comes to us with a carrot and a stick.”