Greece starts European charm offensive, skirting around Berlin | News | DW | 01.02.2015
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Greece starts European charm offensive, skirting around Berlin

Paris, Rome, London: Greece's new prime minister and finance minister are bound for European capital cities, seeking support for their new economic plans. Berlin is conspicuous in its absence from the Syriza itinerary.

Greece's government continued its weekend efforts to mend fences in Europe, following the announcement that the new left-wing Syriza government was looking to renegotiate the terms of Athens' international loans.

Sources close to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Sunday that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called Juncker on Saturday seeking direct talks with the European Union. According to the DPA news agency, the discussion "ran smoothly" and ended with an agreement for talks on Wednesday - when Tsipras will also meet President Francois Hollande in Paris.

France, struggling with debts and a sluggish economy of its own, has reacted relatively positively to Greece's calls for a new debt deal in the past - perhaps helping to explain why Paris, and not Berlin, is at the center of the Syriza charm offensive.

French FM: we can discuss, delay, alleviate, but not annul

French Finance Minister Michel Sapin on Sunday said that Greece would have "no future" outside the euro, but appeared open to Athens' calls to renegotiate the terms of the country's debt.

Michel Sapin bei Schäuble PK 07.04.2014 Berlin

France's Sapin (in foreground) may prove a friendlier ear for Varoufakis than Germany's Schäuble would

"If a government says 'we want to stay in the euro,' that is right," Sapin told French TV station Canal Plus. "There is no future for Greece outside the euro."

Sapin also said that writing off Greek debt was out of the question, before stressing that some less drastic measures might be up for debate: "No, we will not annul; we can discuss, we can delay, we can reduce its weight, but not annul."

Sapin's Sunday meeting with his new Greek counterpart Yanis Varoufakis marked the start of several days of talks for the Syriza government in Paris, London and Rome. Varoufakis, who spoke to US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew on Friday, is set to meet British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne on Monday, reaching Italy by Tuesday.

Neither Prime Minister Tsipras, nor Varoufakis, have yet scheduled appointments with either Chancellor Angela Merkel or her finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, both of whom oppose a debt write-down.

Tsipras: Greeks 'need time to breathe'

Syriza's European tour started somewhat awkwardly after reports on Friday that Varoufakis said he would not work with the so-called "troika" - the European Central Bank, International Monetary Fund, and the European Commission. Varoufakis has since said that his comments were taken out of context.

Griechenland PK Jeroen Dijsselbloem & Gianis Varoufakis 30.01.2015

Varoufakis joked after this EU meeting that he 'should have spoken in English' to avoid misrepresentation

In a statement issued to Bloomberg News on Saturday, Tsipras said that Syriza needed more leeway to tackle root problems in the economy, like tax evasion, corruption, and policies favoring the wealthiest Greeks.

"It has never been our intention to act unilaterally on Greek debt," Tsipras wrote. "We need time to breathe and create our own medium-term recovery program."

Greece's national debt equates to around 175 percent of the country's annual economic output, the highest such proportion of any EU country. The country's so-called bailout amounts to 240 billion euros in total, roughly four-fifths of the total debt. In 2012, Greece's national debt was roughly halved in a major write-down of the country's liabilities; Chancellor Merkel on Saturday said that she did not envisage another such cut.

In Greece's January 25 elections, Syriza emerged as by far the strongest single party, only missing an outright parliamentary majority by two seats. They have set up an alliance with the small, right-wing party called Independent Greeks.

Syriza Unterstützer Feier 25.01.2015 Athen Transparent Merkel

'This is a truly good night, Mrs. Merkel,' read this Syriza supporter's election-night placard; the chancellor might disagree

The new government in Greece has also proved an unexpected boon for Germany's explicitly euroskeptic AfD ("Alternative for Germany") party, which is holding its annual congress in Bremen.

"We all obviously want Greece to leave the eurozone," party founder Bernd Lucke said in Bremen. "Now we're a bit more hopeful that this could even come true." Asked about his thoughs on Tsipras' first week in office, Lucke said, "I'm thankful to this socialist troublemaker for standing up and showing everyone that the eurozone doesn't work."

The AfD came very close to the 5 percent hurdle required for parliamentary representation in the 2013 German general elections, and is now seeking to establish itself as a more permanent political player.

msh/bk (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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