More time for reforms in Greece? | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 18.06.2012
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More time for reforms in Greece?

The Greek elections were watched very closely in Berlin. With the results in, German politicians are sending signals to Athens to stay the course of austerity - but hinting that the process may be slower.

The politicians probably had one eye on the TV: the German national soccer team in its match against Denmark. But the real nail-biting came over the course of several hours as the government watched the results of the parliamentary election in Greece.

It was not surprising that the result was so close, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said on television after polls closed in Greece.

That, he said, was already known. "What is crucial is that Greece continue the reform course. We want Greece to remain in the euro. We want Greece to still want to belong to Europe. But Greece decides its fate itself."

Reform timetable up for discussion

It would not be possible to question or even declare void everything that had been mutually agreed, Westerwelle said. "There can be no substantial changes to the agreement." Chancellor Angela Merkel already expressed similar sentiments on Saturday. At a regional conference of her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in Hesse, the party leader said it was not acceptable that EU member states abiding to treaty agreements "be led by the nose" by the others.

Leader of conservative New Democracy party Antonis Samaras

Samaras hailed the result as a victory for the euro

But in one point, the German government signaled rapprochement with the future government in Athens. Westerwelle said he could imagine talking again about the timetable for reform. But even if the reforms are implemented more gradually, he said, there is essentially no way around them. "If we tell the Greeks that whatever you have agreed no longer counts, then we would indeed have a problem with all the other European countries that are putting a lot of hard work and discipline into implementing their reform policies."

Even before the elections, Social Democratic Party (SPD) leader Sigmar Gabriel had been thinking aloud about a reassessment of the reform schedule. "We must hope that a stable government arrives, which says ‘we want to talk to you about timeframes,’ but doesn't place the substance of the agreements in question."

The deputy chairman of the parliamentary group comprising the CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), Michael Meister, also warned against making changes to agreements. "No matter how it is composed, the new Greek government must answer the question of whether it will uphold the austerity agreements for financial assistance," he told the Rheinische Post newspaper. This would depend on whether there were any further payments from the existing aid packages. "If the Greeks think they can do without it, I'd be very curious how they want to stay in the euro," Meister said.

Saying 'thank you' too

The President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz also hopes that Greece will continue with the austerity measures. A government that sets aside agreements must accept the risk that other countries would stop their payments, he said. About 130 billion euros ($165 billion) in aid to Greece was not given to punish the country, but to help it, Schulz said on television in Berlin.

The Chancellor's office at night

Results were being closely watched in Berlin

The election in Greece is being followed with great interest by politicians, because it is a decision on the future of the euro. Westerwelle said he feared the euro countries did not have much time left. "I believe we must act very quickly and I mean above all the countries that now have to implement reform programs." Ultimately it was not the EU that had bailed Greece out, but its individual members.

"No-one should say Germany did not show solidarity. We have made 40 billion euros available for Greece alone, which is the German taxpayers' money. It's also possible to say 'thank you.'"

Author: Sabine Kinkartz / sgb
Editor: Richard Connor

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