Merkel: I was fully aware of the burden placed on Greeks…we found a common path

“Anyone who knows about culture and civilisation cannot leave out Athens and Greece,” outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday in joint statements with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, noting that this will not be her last visit to the country.

“German-Greek relations were quite lively, I would say. The difficulties were a given when it came to the stability of the euro and I was personally fully aware of the excessive burden that this meant and the challenge that this meant for the people in Greece. In the end, we managed to find a common path, to keep in step for Greece to remain a member of the EU,” said Merkel.

“Once it was completed, when this phase was essentially over, we had to face another huge challenge, that of migration which started in 2015. We have shown that we can share responsibilities and I think that the EU-Turkey Agreement is an example that shows us that we can work together, and in this case work together with Turkey. I am aware of the large number of challenges that Greece faces when it comes to cooperation with Turkey. We discussed yesterday and today with intensity that United Nations resolutions and international law must apply, and we believe that it is important but difficult to find answers and solutions through dialogue,” she added.

“During the pandemic, on a bilateral and European level we showed that we can work together very closely,” Merkel said, concerning Greek-German relations, adding that this was one reason why she wholeheartedly supported the Recovery Fund.

“It was very important for recovery from the pandemic, especially for those countries that had been obliged to carry out a great many reforms and were then hit by the pandemic,” she added, noting that this would allow countries such as Greece, Portugal and Spain to make long-term investments and overcome the problems of the future, such as climate change, sustainability and preserving biodiversity.

She also noted that Greece, due to its geopolitical position and proximity to Turkey, also faced huge challenges at its external borders: “One can learn and be taught many things by Greece and from one another and many discussions led to very good solutions,” she said.

“I cannot but agree that most of the problems between Greece and Turkey are EU-Turkey problems, and within the framework of the EU there is unity. Despite the many things for which I can criticise Turkey, it is hosting 3.5 million refugees. In other words, Turkey accepts that it will be better if these people are in close proximity to their countries and this is what the EU-Turkey agreement is based upon. I made a commitment that we will be led to something that helps us but also helps Turkey, because Turkey must be supported and this applies in the case of Afghan refugees. We share these concerns because we don’t want traffickers to bring these people and instrumentalise them. I believe that we have a fully united stance in the EU and I am not afraid that we will be unable to reach a common stance,” the German chancellor said.

Asked about her stance toward Greece during the debt crisis, Merkel noted that the euro’s vulnerability to outside pressures had been a “shock” and that this had the greatest impact on countries with high debt “that had not done all that they should on the level of reforms”.

“I was always in favour of Greece remaining in the eurozone and I said that the efficiency of our economic system must be comparable otherwise we would not be able to keep the common currency alive. I know that I demanded a lot from the Greeks but, on the other hand, there were various governments in Greece that considered many reforms possible,” she said.