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Europe

'Obviously more than a bilateral meeting'

Angela Merkel's visit to Greece is long overdue, but it's sending a positive signal. The visit is key to restoring a bilateral relationship and to move forward in the Euro crisis, says analyst Janis Emmanouilidis.

DW: It's taken Chancellor Angela Merkel a very long time to visit Greece - her last trip was in 2007. German opposition members are saying the trip on Tuesday (09.10.2012) has come too late. How do Germany's European partners assess that? Is it too late for her to go?

Janis Emmanouilidis: I think it is too late. I think it would have been better if it had happened in 2010 and/or in 2011. A lot of the anxiety now linked to her visit would probably not have been there if she had gone earlier – in order to exchange views, but also to listen to the views of others. So, yes, I agree it is too late, but it's good that it's taking place now.

How do you explain the fact that she is going so late? Why is she going now?

There are two reasons why she didn't go earlier. One has to do with the fact that she and the people around her were not sure what to expect, how the reactions would be in Athens and whether it would be wise to go. Which is linked to the second issue: the German public. The signals she was sending to Germans by not going were that we are being hard with our partners, we expect them to deliver, they should do what we have agreed to do.

Janis Emmanouilidis, Senior Policy Analyst at the European Policy Centre (picture: Janis Emmanouilidis)

Emmanouilidis says the IMF is pushing the eurozone partners to do more

These are the two main reasons why she didn't go in the past. But since the summer, since August, she and her government have been sending out positive signals toward Athens, saying we need to communicate, we have to analyze the situation that we find ourselves in together, and then we must try to solve the problem. This is a tone which we have heard from Merkel especially since after her meeting with Prime Minister Samaras in August. And I think that's the message which she is also trying to convey with her trip to Athens.

Security measures are high in Athens; police will be protecting German institutions in the Greek capital. How do you assess the tension when she gets there?

Unfortunately, if you compare the current situation to the bilateral relationship of only a few years ago, obviously the situation has worsened. We have seen things on both sides often go out of balance, especially in the media. A lot of the criticism in Greece is directed personally at Chancellor Merkel and to Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, so this will not be an easy trip and there's a good reason to be very cautious.

Having said that, I think it's the right move, in the right direction. If you want to reconsolidate the bilateral relationship and if you want to overcome the crisis, I think it's the right way to proceed. You need a strong dialogue. And for a dialogue, you need more than media, you need to go there, show your face and talk to people. It won't be easy, because the negative public opinion vis-à-vis Chancellor Merkel is very strong, but it's a good move anyway.

On paper, Merkel is going to Greece for bilateral talks. But how would you assess this meeting? What is its significance for the future of the eurozone?

First of all, this is obviously more than a bilateral meeting. The strongest member of the eurozone is visiting the country which is having the biggest problems in the eurozone. So obviously this is sending a signal which goes much beyond these two countries. I think in terms of the eurozone crisis this is a positive signal, because it shows that [the leaders] want to stabilize the situation. They want to find a solution jointly to a problem [they're facing] individually. The level of interdependence when you have a common currency is enormous. [Countries] are interdependent in a way which we have not seen in the past.

By going there, you send a signal of confidence. If you look at this crisis, it's very complex: it's an economic crisis, a fiscal, social, political crisis. But in its core, it's a crisis of confidence. So whenever you send a signal of confidence, that is also positive for moving on in the overall crisis. Does that mean you'll overcome the crisis? Obviously not, the crisis is here to stay, for weeks and possibly for years to come.

But I think this is a positive signal. There are disagreements between the biggest player, Germany, and other players in the eurozone, and in the European Union, when it comes to the right crisis recipe. But you need to address them head-on. You can't cushion them or pretend they're not there. That doesn't help. You need to confront them.

Pensioners push riot policemen during scuffles near the EU offices in Athens October 8, 2012. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis

Security is high in Athens following protests ahead of Merkel's visit

If there's a bilateral problem, you also have to confront that bilaterally and face the other side directly. I think that's what this visit should signal: We're ready to talk, we want to find a common solution to the common problem.

Germany is a big player when it comes to the Greek problem. Have you seen any signs that Germany's European partners exerted pressure on Merkel to communicate more, and deal with the situation jointly with Greece?

I suppose that Merkel has been advised to go. But I think something bigger has happened. We've seen criticism vis-à-vis Germany, the German government, the German chancellor, coming from many European states, not only from problem countries such as Greece, Portugal, Ireland, or problem countries like Italy and Spain, but also from many other EU member states. I think that has created some kind of pressure, because there is a public attitude in many member states where there is a lot of criticism vis-à-vis the German position, especially the current government's position. I think that pressure is being felt, and that is one reason why Merkel would reach out to Athens.

Merkel's visit comes at a crucial time ahead of the next European summit planned for next week. It's still unclear whether or not Greece will receive the next tranche of assistance. Is Merkel going to deliver something concrete while in Athens?

I don't expect that to happen. I rather expect that she will reiterate what she has said and what she has highlighted especially since this summer: ‘We are ready to stand beside Greece, if you and your government are able to fulfill what we have jointly agreed that needs to be fulfilled.' By going there she is already sending a signal: 'If it's up to us, we would want you to remain within the common currency. But in order for that to happen you will have to deliver on your side.' I don't think that anyone can expect that she's going to offer something concrete. I'd be surprised if she did.

Looking at the summit next week, can we expect concrete results for Greece there?

The written report of the troika is not out there yet. Maybe the decision will therefore only be taken at the following summit [and not next week]. Or, if it's not necessary that the heads of state and government agree, then maybe at the next Eurogroup meeting. Independent of when that decision will be made, my expectation is that the troika report will be critical, but at the same time it will say that progress has been achieved, that things are moving in the right direction if the Greek side is ready to stick to what has been agreed, which means that the next tranche of assistance will be provided.

But there's another issue on the table, even bigger than Greece and its euro partners: there are difficulties between the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European partners. The IMF is strongly pushing the eurozone partners, in this case especially the Germans, the Dutch and the Finns, to do more.

So there are a lot of things going on which go beyond the bilateral relationship of Greece and Germany, or the situation in Greece, which still need to be settled. But I'm confident that they will be settled in one way or another, because the alternative would be much worse.

Janis Emmanouilidis is a senior policy advisor for Brussels-based think tank European Policy Centre.

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