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Thousands of protesters descend on Athens as Germany’s Merkel meets with Greece’s Samaras October 10, 2012

Posted by Yilan in Germany, Yunanistan.
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 Protesters burn a flag emblazoned with a swastika during a demonstration against the visit of German Chancellor Angela Merkel in central Athens.

  Prostesters, dressed as Nazis, wave a Greek and a swastika flag as they ride in an open-top car in Syntagma Square in Athens as they protest against the visit of Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, Oct. 9.
 Greece’s Prime Minister Antonis Samaras (R) and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel speak before their meeting at the Maximos mansion in Athens, Oct. 9.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel got a hostile reception Tuesday when she made her first visit to Greece since its debt crisis erupted three years ago.

But she praised the current Greek government for covering “much of the ground” required for recovery.

“I hope and wish that Greece remains a member of the eurozone,” Merkel said. “As partners, we are working hard to achieve that.”

Her visit triggered protests attended by some 50,000 demonstrators in Athens. The rallies were mostly peaceful, but police briefly clashed with several dozen demonstrators and detained nearly 200 people throughout the day.

As Europe’s largest contributor to the bailout fund that has rescued Greece from bankruptcy, Germany is viewed by many Greeks as the primary enforcer of the austerity measures the Greek government enacted in exchange for emergency aid.

Greece has depended on bailouts from Europe and the International Monetary Fund since May 2010. To get the loans, it has implemented a series of deep budget cuts and tax hikes, while increasing retirement ages and facilitating private sector layoffs. To date, Greece has received €240 billion ($310 billion) in bailout loans and has renegotiated a €110 billion deal on the repayment of some of its bonds.

However, Athens must pass further austerity measures worth €13.5 billion over the next two years to qualify for its next rescue loan payment — without which the government will run out of cash next month.

Merkel’s stop in Athens was welcomed by the Greek government as a much-needed boost for the country’s future in Europe — but protesters viewed it as a harbinger of further austerity and hardship.

Dozens of youths broke away from the peaceful rally and threw rocks and flares at riot police, who responded with pepper spray and stun grenades, in clashes that were relatively minor.

More than 7,000 police had cordoned off parks and other sections of city to keep demonstrators away from the German leader.

As a helicopter buzzed overhead, thousands of protesters, chanting “History is written by the disobedient” gathered in front of Greek parliament. One group of demonstrators burned a Swastika and threw it onto a police barrier, while a group of special forces reservists appeared in uniform and chanted “Merkel out of Greece” in time to their march.

“I have no doubt that (Merkel) has good intentions, and wants to help, but that won’t solve Europe’s problem,” retired teacher Irini Kourdaki said.


Greece raises security for Angela Merkel visit October 10, 2012

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German chancellor flies in amid tight security as protesters hurl rocks and stones to denounce the ‘architect of austerity’

Anti-Merkel protests in Athens, Greece

Greek protesters hold anti-German banners outside the parliament building before Angela Merkel’s arrival in Athens. Photograph: Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images

Europe‘s most powerful leader, Angela Merkel, flew into crisis-hit Greece on Tuesday amid tight security as thousands of demonstrators gathered to protest against the debt-laden country’s austerity programme.

The German chancellor touched down at Athens wearing a lime-coloured jacket – the same one she wore for Germany’s win over Greece at the Euro 2012 football tournament – and smiled broadly as her host, the Greek prime minister, Antonis Samaras, welcomed her with a red-carpet reception.

But before Merkel’s cavalcade even left the airport, tens of thousands of demonstrators converged on the capital’s central squares to denounce the woman most identified with the punitive measures blamed for record levels of poverty and unemployment.

Rocks and stones were lobbed at riot police, who were reported to have used pepper spray against protesters. As the chants of angry demonstrators echoed around Syntagma square, where Greek police estimated 250,000 demonstrators had gathered, helicopters flew overhead as one of the tightest security operations got under way.

Although the chancellor will spend barely six hours in the country, her presence has resulted in frogmen patrolling the seas, snipers guarding rooftops and an estimated 7,000 policemen, including elite riot units, securing the boulevards on which her cavalcade will pass.

“We will give her the welcome she deserves,” warned Alexis Tsipras, Greece’s main opposition leader, as he joined protesters denouncing the “architect of austerity” in Syntagma square, Athens’ central plaza. “The policies she represents are dangerous and criminal,” said the radical leftist, adding that the growth through austerity approach favoured by Berlin to resolving the nation’s debt woes were not only counterproductive but doomed to failure.

Prominent among the protesters flanking Tsipras were leading figures from Germany’s left opposition who also flew into Athens to express their solidarity for Greek workers and pensioners who have been hardest hit by relentless rounds of EU-mandated tax increases and pay cuts.

With the German media likening Athens to a “war zone”, despite Merkel’s spokesman describing the talks as a “normal visit” to an EU country, the stakes could not be higher.

For cognoscenti of the debt drama that has rocked the eurozone since exploding beneath the Acropolis in late 2009, the visit is crucial for the German leader as she gears up for general elections in September 2013.

Eager to soften her image as an austerity warmonger in the runup to the polls, the chancellor has gone on a charm offensive, speaking often of the pain she feels for the difficulty ordinary Greeks have had to endure as a result of their country’s profligacy.

But nearly three years into the crisis, with Greece engulfed in its worst recession since the second world war, the visit is also seen as being long overdue. Although German officials insist Merkel’s descent on the Greek capital should be viewed as “an act of solidarity” – and further proof of the chancellor’s desire to keep debt-stricken Greece in the family of eurozone nations – there is, among Greeks at least, little light at the end of the tunnel.

After the biggest debt write-down in the history of world finance and two bailouts worth a mammoth €240bn (£195bn), the country is not only far from being saved but slipping inexorably into social meltdown.

As Samaras tries to negotiate new budget cuts with international lenders – the price of further aid from the EU and IMF – his fragile coalition not only faces anger on the streets but a political climate that has become increasingly radicalised.

Last week the conservative leader warned that democracy might be at risk in a country that has seen the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party surge in popularity since elections in June. He appealed for Athens’s next cash injection – at €31.5bn not only one of the biggest but vital to keeping the liquidity-starved economy alive – to be made before public coffers dried up completely “by the end of November”.

But analysts say Merkel’s room for manoeuvre is limited. As she entered talks with Samaras, Greek officials repeated their hope that the chancellor would at least guarantee the next loan disbursement. But even that is far from sure. The German leader faces formidable opposition from her constituency over facilitating aid conditions for a nation often portrayed as feckless and lazy by the German press.

Instead Merkel is expected to tell Samaras that while Berlin is not about to cut Athens loose, the new round of belt-tightening – at €13.5bn the equivalent of more than 5% of GDP – and the implementation of further reforms is the only way of ensuring that Greece remains in the eurozone.

Greece Braces for Visit by Merkel October 9, 2012

Posted by Yilan in EU, European Union, Germany, Yunanistan.
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German Chancellor Angela Merkel visits Greece while the country remains locked in negotiations with its creditors over a package of austerity measures. Dow Jones’s Jenny Paris discusses the latest developments.

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.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will visit Athens on Tuesday but she will likely be met with mixed reaction from the Greeks, Charles Forelle discusses on Markets Hub.

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.

A Greek pensioner protesting against austerity cuts, confronted riot police in Athens as tensions built on Monday, the eve of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Greece.

“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.”


‘Mummy’ Merkel battered as Germans lose faith in EU July 6, 2010

Posted by Yilan in Germany, Yunanistan.
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After bailing out Greece and now the euro, Germany is fed up with being Europe’s paymaster

Chancellor Angela Merkel addresses the media after the weekly cabinet meeting in Berlin

Germans are proud of working for global brand names such as manufacturing firms such as Mercedes-Benz and are outraged that Angela Merkel is giving taxpayers? money to a country with little industrial output

GISELA and Susi, thirtysomething civil service secretaries, were shivering over their sausages in what the tabloids labelled the “most miserable May of the millennium” and planning their summer holidays. “I know where I’m not going,” one of them said. “The hotels, service and food aren’t as good as Turkey but the prices are as high as Italy!”

As Berliners bravely sat on the banks of the River Spree in unseasonably cold weather for the Ascension Day holiday that traditionally marks the start of summer, they had no doubt that the cold wind was blowing from the sunny south: Greece in particular.

The multi-billion-euro payout for Greece, followed by an even more expensive rescue package for the threatened single currency, has created the greatest political climate change in a generation.

Suddenly Germans are asking questions about the European project that has been the bedrock of their politics for 60 years, leaving Angela Merkel, the chancellor, under fire from the electorate, the opposition and her own party.

It took a stand-up display of table-banging aggression from President Nicolas Sarkozy and an intervention on the telephone from President Barack Obama to get Merkel to agree to the euro package.

“We foot the bill for EU disaster,” screamed a headline in Bild, the tabloid newspaper. Christoph Schmidt, a government economist, responded by warning: “Germany cannot become Europe’s paymaster.”

The tension between Germany and France threatened to spill over at a Brussels summit last weekend when Merkel and Sarkozy had a furious row. According to observers, it ended with Sarkozy threatening to leave the euro.

“It was a stand-up argument,” an official told El Pais, the Spanish newspaper. Sarkozy, furious at Merkel’s reluctance to sign up to a safety net of €750 billion (£644 billion), was shouting and bawling at Merkel and smashed his fist on the table. “It was Sarkozy on steroids,” one witness said.

Dubbed “our Iron Lady” — or just “Mutti” (Mummy) within the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) that she dominates — Merkel returned to Germany accused of having given too much, too late.

Her timing was also poor. The euro talks, combined with the Greek bailout, led to a CDU defeat in North Rhine-Westphalia’s state election last weekend and with it the loss of her majority in the upper house.

The stakes could scarcely be higher. “If the euro fails, it is not only the currency that fails,” Merkel warned last week. “Then Europe fails. The idea of European unity fails.”

Sarkozy’s petulant outburst won the day — Merkel was forced to back down on the rescue — but in the longer term it may undermine his objective of a more closely integrated Europe.

There is now a pervasive awareness in Germany that the post-war consensus of subsuming its national identity — and national self-interest — in the “common European house” no longer gets a popular rubber stamp.

“We give millions to countries where they have big annual pay rises, perks for civil servants and soaring pensions. I’ll have to work to 67 for a pension that might not be enough,” complained Ulrike Daunheim, a 38-year-old shop assistant and Bild reader.

“Greece has no industry worthy of the name, makes no products with prospects on a global scale and carries out no research to discover any,” was the verdict of the left-liberal Der Spiegel news magazine.

The contrast is vividly demonstrated by the Berlin Automobilforum on Unter den Linden showcasing the best of Volkswagen, including Skoda, Seat, Bentley and Bugatti — a pan-European empire owned and run from Germany.

Part of the public outrage over Greece comes from the shock felt over its financial duplicity in a society based on trust and honesty: Germans face no barriers on tubes or trains, while soft drinks and beer are sold from open fridges on the street into the small hours.

This is not to say that German businessmen are incapable of adapting to local conditions. Prosecutors are examining allegations of bribes paid to Greek officials to secure contracts for the sale of submarines, tanks and equipment that got the Athens underground railway running for the 2004 Olympics.

The paradox is that if German companies were overpaid at the expense of the Greek taxpayer, it is now German taxpayers who have had the bill passed on to them. Germany’s share of the euro bailout package is €120 billion, but it is already expected to rise by a further €25 billion.

The greatest fear in German minds is that by agreeing to buy bonds issued by countries such as Greece, which have been reduced to “junk” status, the European Central Bank (ECB) will weaken the euro and risk rampant inflation.

That is a word that strikes a chill in the heart of every citizen of a nation that has twice in the past 100 years seen its money made worthless and its savings evaporate, most notably during the 1920s.

During a 16-way conference call of ECB board members that had to endorse Merkel’s and Sarkozy’s agreement, Axel Weber, the Bundesbank president, pointed out it was mostly German money and came close to slamming down the telephone on his colleagues.

The markets were boosted only temporarily. Josef Ackermann, chairman of Deutsche Bank, has warned that Greeks may not be able to meet their debts no matter how much more they are helped.

Hardly surprising, German critics say, that Sarkozy can claim the deal as a “95% French idea”, given the role of his compatriots Jean-Claude Trichet, the ECB president, and Dominique Strauss-Kahn, head of the International Monetary Fund.

Merkel is being urged to insist that the “stability pact” is hedged with strict controls on national economic policies. By the end of last week she was even coming round to a suggestion by Olli Rehn, the Finnish EU commissioner, that national budgets should be submitted to Brussels first to keep an eye out for further Greek-style accounting.

Ulrike Guérot, head of the European Council on Foreign Relations think tank, said: “Germany has provided the oil that greased Europe. If we don’t want to do that any more, we need to say so. But that means we no longer want to see a Europeanised Germany, but a German-style Europe.”

This would mean a halt to European Union expansion — and certainly to eurozone expansion to dodgy economies. Friday’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the epitome of conservative economic orthodoxy, suggested that if others do not toe the line the euro could retrench to a few economically compatible countries, or else Germany should leave. That would finish the euro and make Sarkozy’s threat to pull out if he did not get his way look a bad joke.

The creation of the euro, within a decade of East Germans being given the coveted western D-mark, was sold as a “thank you” for German unification: in effect extending the stable German currency to the rest of the continent.

The question being asked this weekend is whether or not Merkel is standing up strongly enough for Germany’s own interests.

Her allies in the pro-business Free Democratic party (FDP) are furious that their promise to cut taxes may be ditched and say they may rewrite their coalition agreement. Otto Solms, the party’s finance expert, has threatened revolt against Merkel’s support for a financial transaction tax.

Within her own party, Roland Koch, prime minister of the state of Hesse, whose economy is almost as big as that of Greece, says he will be forced to shelve planned free childcare for the under-threes.

The Christian Social Union (CSU), Merkel’s Bavarian sister party, is also up in arms. Christine Haderthauer, the state’s social affairs minister, has accused Merkel of “acting like an arsonist and thinking like a dinosaur”. Horst Seehofer, the CSU leader, has complained he heard about the euro rescue pact “only on my car radio”.

The argument is about the future of the European idea. Sarkozy felt Merkel was wrong to leave behind the euro crisis to attend a VE Day anniversary ceremony in Moscow. For Merkel that was missing the point: the European project has been about superseding the national rivalries that lead to war.

For 60 years Germans, aware of their own past, were happy to pay the pipers of peace.

The mantra of Britain, which always argued that the EU should be expanded without economic integration, was “wider, not deeper”. This may have allowed countries such as Greece, with a different economic culture, to be embraced all the more readily.

German politicians believed the euro meant stronger economic bonds that would ultimately imply political union — and that the dilution of national sovereignty would be driven by the bigger partners.

That is now in doubt. In the midst of the crisis Wolfgang Schäuble, Merkel’s finance minister, was taken to hospital after suffering an allergic reaction to medication.

The same fate may yet await the European project.

Turkey to EU: Call us when you’re ready May 18, 2010

Posted by Yilan in EU, European Union, Germany, Turkey.
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Given the strength of Turkish foreign policy and its youthful population, why would Ankara now want to subordinate itself to a group that more resembles an aging diplomatic country club?

It’s a great time to be in lovely Istanbul, taking in the Bosphorus and all the historic sites by foot. The scenery on Turkey’s political landscape is every bit as dramatic.

Consider Turkey’s statesmanship today in Tehran (along with Brazil) to try and resolve the ongoing Iranian nuclear standoff.

Or the Turkish parliament’s vote over constitutional amendments.

In the backdrop lies the increasingly inconsequential issue that used to dominate news on Turkey – its long stalled bid for EU accession.

Just last week I was concentrating on this subject at a majestic retreat in Austria courtesy of the Salzburg Global Seminar.

For five days I deliberated with a group of distinguished Turkish and European diplomats, politicians, business people and scholars, all eager to explore how the Turkish accession project might conclude.

I suppose I showed my own hand when I enquired out loud, with news of Greece’s financial crisis and the puzzling EU response, why Turkey should anyhow want to join?

Chatham House rules applied, so I can’t say what others felt (though my hypothesis was shared). I did get an interesting “on record” insight from Turkish parliamentarian and AK party executive committee member Suat Kiniklioglu.

Until we met in Austria’s verdant hills last week I was pleased to learn we had stomped the same grounds when were living “la vida think tank” in Washington DC’s Dupont Circle, circa 2005.

With all of Turkey’s economic successes, I asked Suat why the ruling AK party should want to continuing pursuing a membership that will mean inheriting the liabilities of 27 deeply divided countries with unequally performing economies.

Given the strength of Turkish foreign policy, its growing nexus to the global energy supply, its youthful population (etc, I could go on), why would Ankara now want to subordinate itself to a group that more resembles an aging diplomatic country club?

One important impression I gathered from the Salzburg discussions: Germany, France, and especially Austria, will never, repeat never, allow Turkey to join.

Too much bad blood, “enlargement fatigue,” the excuse of domestic politics, and probably even a degree of not-so-latent ethnic discrimination.

So what’s wrong with Turkey turning from its position of strength to say, ‘Thanks, but no thanks!?’ I can’t find a compelling answer against it.

Meanwhile, I notice there are many Germans, French, and Austrians walking around the same touristic sites as me.

Too bad for them that the euro is so weak, although it will still buy you some killer street food.