During his visit to Berlin, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras appealed to German business leaders for more investment, and to Angela Merkel for more solidarity. But was there disagreement behind the scenes?
Just a year ago, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras was considered persona non grata in Berlin. His rejection of the reform programs in his days as opposition leader had isolated him in Europe. But ever since he became prime minister last summer, the tide has turned. Samaras' willingness to accept international lenders' reform proposals and his ability to push these through Parliament have earned him a great deal of credit abroad.
It is thus no coincidence that Samaras and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have met three times within the last six months. Merkel's implicit message on her visit to Athens in October was that Greece has made progress in implementing its reforms. The troika of international creditors came to the same conclusion in its interim report and further credit payments to Greece were authorised.
Disagreement between Merkel and Samaras?
But there is still much to do in Greece. Many reforms have yet to be decided on and implemented. This was not discussed publicly in Berlin, especially as the German chancellor and the Greek prime minister preferred not to speak to the press after their meeting, but rather beforehand, in a series of short statements. Observers suspect this was an indication that things were not as harmonious behind the scenes.
Merkel's statements might appear to confirm this interpretation. In her previous meeting with Samaras she had spoken of progress in Greece, but this time she said only that she was "naturally interested (...) in how the continuation of the Greek reform program is making progress." She then immediately added that in her talks with Samaras, she would report on economic developments in Germany, because Germany, too, "must make every effort to ensure economic growth and thus job security." In other words, the message was: we all have to get our house in order.
Samaras recalled everything Greece had achieved so far: "I would like to make clear from the start that our country is making an enormous effort, which goes hand-in-hand with great sacrifices, to get things on the right track," he said, flanked by the German leader. "We are trying to win back credibility - credibility on the part of the peoples of Europe and on the part of the markets." He added that key measures and a series of laws would safeguard this path.
A high-level source from the Greek government delegation denied there was dissent, but confirmed that the German side had raised the issue of tax collection in Greece. Assurances were, however, given that even this would be resolved. In addition, Greece is under an obligation to deliver. There are still three loan installments ahead and each time Greece must certify that it has met the relevant intermediate goals before the funds are disbursed to the country.
Samaras with business leaders
The real reason for Samaras' visit to Berlin was an invitation to the annual economic forum of the conservative daily newspaper "Die Welt." On Monday evening (07.01.2013), the Greek prime minister had the opportunity to encourage the leading representatives of the German economy to invest in Greece. He pointed out that Greece now guarantees stability and the danger of returning to the old drachma currency has been averted.
The President of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, came out in support of Greece, saying that he expected an economic recovery in Greece for 2013.
The heads of major German companies also gave credit to Samaras - at least that's what 'Die Welt' wrote in its online edition. The relevant article is entitled "Business leaders and politicians celebrate Samaras."
The Greek delegation was more cautious, speaking only of a 'good climate'. But such a climate is also a prerequisite for foreign investment. Without investment, there cannot be growth - or jobs. And that is ultimately the criterion as to whether the reform efforts are successful or not, according to the Greek delegation.