ATHENS, Greece (AP) – Greece’s often strained relations in recent years with Europe’s economic powerhouse Germany took center stage during a meeting in Athens on Friday between outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the Greek president.
Katerina Sakellaropoulou was Merkel’s first official meeting during her visit to the country whose financial crisis has marked much of her 16-year tenure and Germany’s relations with Europe.
“There were times of difficulty and tension,” Sakellaropoulou told Merkel, referring to their two countries’ relations. “The financial crisis that many countries in Europe have been facing has put Greece, which has to pay a heavy price, mainly in a difficult position. It was an unprecedented situation… and Greece felt – rightly so, we often felt lonely. “
Greece’s decade-long financial crisis, which began in late 2019, saw a quarter of the country’s economy wiped out and Greece nearly exited the euro, the common currency used by many members of the ‘European Union.
Germany was the main contributor to the three successive international bailouts Greece received from 2010 to 2018.
But the bailout loans came with conditions. The Greek economy has come under strict scrutiny and a series of deeply felt reforms have been imposed, including repeated tax hikes and cuts in pensions, wages and public spending on everything from healthcare to infrastructure. .
While the Greek economy had suffered years of mismanagement and excessive spending of public money which contributed to its dire financial situation and triggered the crisis, the conditions imposed in return for the bailout were particularly harsh.
Many Greeks blamed Merkel – and her finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble – for the forced austerity that led to falling living standards and economic depression. At one point, the unemployment rate reached 28%, with youth unemployment exceeding 60%.
But as the country’s financial situation gradually improved, relations with Germany also improved and the general public’s sentiment towards Merkel herself.
“I believe that the time that has passed and the experiences that we have had during this period have contributed to mutual understanding and to drawing useful conclusions for the present and the future,” said Sakellaropoulou. “It is important for Europe to maintain its cohesion, and this has been shown in its management of the pandemic and in the Recovery Fund. “
Merkel replied to the Greek President that “you mentioned our relationship which has had its ups and downs, but which rests on solid foundations. Dialogue has always been the key to seeking and finding a solution.
She said there had been various challenges, including the destabilization of the euro currency “and the reforms that were to take place in all countries and in Greece”, and also touched briefly on the issue of migration for the Europe.
“What has given us strength during this time is the fact that we have always felt that we belong together,” Merkel said. “And I think that’s the basic feeling we have to have.”
After meeting Sakellaropoulou, Merkel began discussions with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, at whose private residence she dined on Thursday evening after arriving in Athens.
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