Merkel in Athens

By Nikos Xydakis

Friday?s surprise announcement that German Chancellor Angela Merkel will visit Greece next week following an invitation by Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras came at a crucial turning point for the debt-hit country?s bailout program as well as the euro area at large.

Her upcoming visit, of course, is heavy in symbolism. Merkel is seen as extending a helping hand to a hapless Greek administration just a few days ahead of the anticipated announcement of austerity measures demanded by foreign lenders and in the midst of an acute political crisis. At the same time, the visit is being viewed as reinforcing Germany?s image as a hegemonic power across the eurozone?s fragile southern periphery.

Since the outbreak of the debt crisis three years ago, Greek-German ties have suffered because of wrongheaded calculations and poor handling on both sides and were damaged by foot-dragging and a lack of clarity.

Above all, however, bilateral ties have suffered because diplomacy has for the greatest part been exercised by arrogant politicians and populist media that catered to their own objectives.

The German administration was too late in appreciating the depth and intensity of the Greek crisis, while the Greek government did not have enough courage to expose the full extent of the problem before negotiating a viable bailout program.

With time, the Germans grew more stubborn while the Greeks shied away. In the end, both failed to reach a mutually agreed solution.

Now the rescue program is at risk, threatened by an intense political and social crisis that was, in part, created by the very program that was built to cure it. The erroneous and risky recipe has already wrecked one administration and at least two parties, PASOK and LAOS. Now yet another government, the third in three years, is under threat.

Having first put enormous pressure on Samaras to support the memorandum, Merkel now may realize that Greece is on the verge of coming apart. She is trying to buy time for some maneuvering inside the disintegrating eurozone and on the path to German elections.

The problem is that the time available to Greece is much shorter and the problem much more urgent.