German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived in Athens shortly before 20:00 on Thursday evening following an invitation by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
Merkel is visiting Greece for the last time before she steps down as chancellor, and will be attending a private dinner with PM Mitsotakis this evening.
The German leader begun her official visit with an address to young people at the Goethe Institute at 09:00 on Friday.
German Chancellor went to the Presidential Mansion where she was welcomed by the President of the Republic Katerina Sakellaropoulou shortly after 10:00.
“I welcome a great politician who has shaped the politics of Germany and Europe for almost two decades,” said the President of the Republic, welcoming the German Chancellor to the Presidential Palace. .
“Greece has paid a heavy price,” the President of the Republic stressed during her short address to Chancellor Merkel . ” Many times we felt justifiably alone,” added Ms. Sakellaropoulou, while thanking the German chancellor for “maintaining bilateral relations and your pro-European stance,” she said.
Replying, Merkel said: “You referred to our relations, which had some ups and downs but are based on solid foundations. And I have to say that dialogue is always the key for finding a solution.”
“What gave us strength is that we had a sense that we belong together, Germany and Greece,” she added, noting that this must be retained “in the challenges that we will face in the future also”.
Merkel unpopular during Greek debt crisis
Merkel has not always been welcomed to Greece with open arms. Many there still see her as the woman who forced austerity on the country during the 2009 Greek financial crisis, which grew into the decadelong euro crisis.
At the time, Merkel and her Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble were hated figures. Germany was the single biggest lender and Merkel and Schäuble, along with the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) demanded huge budget cuts and drastic tax hikes in exchange for their support for three different international bailouts of more than €300 billion ($350 billion).
After she was greeted with mass demonstrations of Greeks waving posters showing her in a Hitler moustache in 2012, Athens banned protests during her 2014 and 2019 visits.
Merkel: ‘Most difficult moment’
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is one of many Greek officials who say the country has changed. And
he has spoken positively about the chancellor, noting that she has a “special relationship” with Greece.
Last week in Brussels, the conservative politician said: “I think she will be the first to admit — she has already done so — that she has repeatedly asked a lot from the Greeks and that austerity went beyond what Greek society could bear. But at the same time, it was she who went against the recommendations of her ministers to keep Greece in the eurozone.”
In September, Merkel told Greek journalists that bailout negotiations had been “the most difficult moment” of her 16 years in office. Indeed the crisis wiped out a quarter of Greece’s economy and sparked massive unemployment.
As Greece recovered, attitudes toward Merkel also softened. When she was welcomed in 2019 by then Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras — a fierce critic during the crisis years — she seemed relieved, saying “the difficulties now lie behind us.”