Amid tensions, Greek PM Tsipras meets Chancellor Merkel in Berlin | News | DW | 23.03.2015
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Amid tensions, Greek PM Tsipras meets Chancellor Merkel in Berlin

Greece's new prime minister has begun a much-anticipated meeting with the German chancellor in Berlin. His first visit to Germany since taking office was meant to reduce heightened tensions between Athens and Berlin.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was greeted with full military honors at the chancellery in Berlin on Monday, where he was met by Chancellor Angela Merkel. The two leaders shook hands and smiled for the cameras, before the Bundeswehr band played the national anthems of both countries.

Shortly afterwards, the two leaders went into the chancellery for their bilateral talks, which were to be followed by a meeting over dinner.

The talks came amid heightened tensions between the two eurozone countries, which have been growing since Tsipras' far-left Syriza party swept to power on an anti-austerity platform in snap elections in January.

Athens and Berlin have been on a collision course over Tsipras' stated intent to roll back austerity measures, implemented by previous Greek governments, in order to comply with the terms of the country's 240-billion-euro ($260 billion) international bailout, and the determination of Merkel's government to make him live up to the commitments agreed by his predecessors.

Waiting for promised reforms

On the fringes of last week's European Union summit in Brussels, Tsipras, in a meeting that also involved Merkel, again agreed to introduce fresh reforms, that would have the same debt reducing effect as those introduced by previous governments. This came exactly a month after Tsipras had made a similar pledge.

Since then, Germany and the rest of Greece's creditors have been waiting for Tsipras to unveil the reforms, which he agreed to implement in return for them extending the bailout by a further four months. Tsipras' attempt at last week's summit to convince EU leaders to release the funds in the absence of the reforms fell on deaf ears.

Meanwhile, in a letter from Tsipras to Merkel published in the Monday edition of the Financial Times, the Greek premier warned that without more financial help, Athens would soon be unable to service its debt, while at the same time paying public wages and pensions. Tsipras also sent similar letters to French President Francois Hollande and European Commissin President Jean-Claude Juncker.

'No bilateral solution'

Prior to Monday's talks, German officials played down expectations, despite reports that Tsipras could use the meeting to present the chancellor the long-awaited list of financial reforms.

Speaking at a press conference in Berlin hours before the meeting, Merkel's spokesman reminded reporters that Greece needed to convince all of its eurozone partners.

"When it comes to finding solutions, no bilateral meeting can or should replace what is taking place with the euro group of finance ministers" Steffen Seibert said.

"A solution can only be found once the Greek side has presented a comprehensive list (of financial reforms) and this list is then examined by the three institutions the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank," he added.

Bilateral tensions have also been strained by a number of other issues, including a claim by Tsipras and his government that Germany owes Greece reparation payments stemming from the Nazi occupation of the country during World War II. Berlin agues that this issue was resolved by a 1960 accord between West Germany and Greece.

pfd/jr (dpa, AP, AFP)

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