Varoufakis-Schäuble meeting draws sharp reactions | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 06.02.2015
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Varoufakis-Schäuble meeting draws sharp reactions

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis has achieved virtually nothing in his visit to Berlin and other European capitals. And now the press is even making fun of his sense of style.

The mood in Germany is a bit like at the height of the first Greek crisis a few years ago. Back then, some German newspapers showed little self-restraint in their vitriol toward Athens. The mass-market Bild was particularly harsh, with headlines like "Just sell your islands, you bankrupt Greeks."

This time around, Bild's coverage has been somewhat more sober. "Schäuble gives pinko minister the brush-off," reads the headline. But the article only managed to make it to page two. The paper seems to have lost interest in Greece-bashing.

Little understanding for Athens

The German press has reached a consensus on Greece: This will not do. After Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis met with his German counterpart, Wolfgang Schäuble, the Chemnitz Freie Presse called demands for debt relief by Athens "outrageous and unrealistic."

Syriza supporters after the January election (Photo: REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis)

Be careful what you ask for: Syriza's voters were euphoric after January's election

The Hessische Niedersächsische Allgemeine went so far as to compare the Greek minister's European tour with "the rampage of an alcoholic whose mother stopped putting liquor next to his bed."

In contrast, the Nürnberger Nachrichten is among the few critical of the hard line toward Athens: "This course of pushing for reforms without looking at the situation in the country will not lead to success, but to disaster."

The press comments reflect the mood of the German population. In the latest survey conducted for public television, 58 percent of respondents believed that the EU should insist that Greece adhere to the agreed austerity and reform conditions. Only 9 percent were in favor of partial debt relief, one of the new Greek government's key demands, while 31 percent favored a compromise solution in the form of an additional repayment deferment.

The Greek press evidently became aware that their new leaders had started out on the wrong foot after the talks between Varoufakis and Schäuble. The headline of the tabloid Ethnos described it as a "war of nerves - Schäuble insists on Berlin's doctrine of austerity." The conservative newspaper I Kathimerini spoke of a "deep chasm between Athens and Berlin."

The centrist Ta Nea likened the situation to the film "Dances with Wolves" - "pressure and threats to comply with all requirements." The Syriza-affiliated newspaper I Avgi unsurprisingly remains loyal to Tsipras, saying defiantly, "Greece cannot be blackmailed." It's still a more muted response than a few years ago, when Greek papers showed German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a Nazi uniform.

Greek protesters holding poster comparing Merkel to Hitler (Photo: EPA/ORESTIS PANAGIOTOU)

Haircut or moustache? In 2012, some Greeks likened Angela Merkel to Hitler

The ECB hammer

In contrast to the response to demands for debt relief by Athens, there is less agreement about the European Central Bank's decision to stop accepting Greek government bonds as securities from Greek credit institutions.

Some newspapers are pleased that go-it-alone Germany for once had to seek the ECB's backing. But Germany's Stuttgarter Zeitung was dismissive: "ECB chief Mario Draghi has shown how it's done - but should be careful not to use it." And Spain's La Vanguardia believes that if things continue, the monetary union could fall apart: "A bankruptcy among Greek banks would cause an exit from the euro and lead the country into other alliances - such as with Russia."

Yanis Varoufakis and George Osborne (Photo: REUTERS/Peter Nicholls)

Changes in latitudes: Varoufakis arrived at 11 Downing Street in a leather jacket

The physical appearance of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis is commented on surprisingly often in the German media. The Münchener Merkur spoke of "the yobs in Athens." And this probably isn't just because of their politics. Both men refuse to wear ties when dealing with high-level foreign leaders. Varoufakis often lets his shirt hang out of his trousers. The motorcyclist with the crewcut is considered especially cool in Greece.

Others are less impressed. The British tabloid The Sun, which recently briefly stopped running topless models on its Page 3, instead revealed a little of the Greek finance minister's skin. As he spoke with the Savile Row-clad Chancellor George Osborne, "Marxist biker" Varoufakis' belly could be seen between the buttons of his cobalt blue shirt. In one of its plays on words, the newspaper said this was "unsuitable."

The German weekly Die Zeit even dedicated an entire article to Varoufakis' appearance. Author Tillmann Prüfer wrote: "Varoufakis has surpassed the style of his prime minister in rowdiness. Tsipras at least takes time for a decent haircut, but Varoufakis has rationalized this away. He has a bald head, giving him the classic look of the street fighter."

So if Tsipras and Varoufakis ultimately make concessions to their creditors, it will be interesting to see whether this is also accompanied by sartorial changes.