Whether one agrees with its policies or not, Germany is the European Union’s economic engine. France also plays an important role, but no one disputes Berlin’s primacy. Chancellor Angela Merkel is the oldest-serving and most stable leader of the western world. She has been tested in a wide range of challenges – from managing the Greek crisis to migration – and has insisted on doing what she considers right, often at a steep political cost.
Greeks view her with awe; some with anger and others even with hatred. Her relationship with other leaders is based on the principle of credibility. This is also true in her relations with the Greek prime ministers with whom she has cooperated over the years. Some disappointed her, others surprised her.
Everyone knows that the chancellor expects her interlocutors to honor their commitments. As far as policies are concerned, promises are not enough. She wants tangible, measurable results. And there is no chance she will be convinced by the rather habitual tactic of Greek politicians to blame their opponents for any problems.
Having received detailed information from her diplomats and bureaucrats on the situation in Greece over the past few years, Merkel has a clear view of its ills, as well as of the responsibilities of individuals, parties and social groups for the country’s economic crisis: from a business elite that exploited national resources for personal gain, to rigid labor unions that secured privileges to the detriment of subsequent generations, and from the bribes and appointments of party cronies to the squandering of EU funds.
In this light, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ message at Thursday’s meeting with Chancellor Merkel must be positive, with ideas on how to reform the state and cost-effective actions to improve the performance of the Greek economy. It would be a mistake to criticize the previous government, given the good chemistry that had developed in recent years between Merkel and former premier Alexis Tsipras. The chancellor saw SYRIZA’s rise to power as an opportunity for Greece to deal with long-standing problems like the clientelist state, corruption and reform stagnation, according to a recent report in Deutsche Welle.
Mitsotakis’ message will be well received if it is positive and focused on the future, without disparaging the efforts of his predecessor but stressing his intention to go further. Criticizing the work of a political opponent is not appreciated by foreign leaders and certainly not by Merkel. On the contrary, it annoys them. This was experienced by former conservative prime minister Antonis Samaras who, in his last meeting with the chancellor as premier, had spoken about the “danger” of SYRIZA winning the 2015 general election. It didn’t serve him well. Merkel was not impressed, did not appreciate the “warning” and ultimately did not help him ahead of the election.
Mitsotakis knows that his rejection of austerity measures during SYRIZA’s administration, as well as his opposition to the Prespes Agreement did not thrill the chancellor, as it brought him in conflict with her positions on Greece and her strategic aims for the Balkans. However, that was then. The future concerns the next steps for the Greek economy, and in this respect Mitsotakis’ greatest advantage is that, to a large extent, he is promoting reforms that are in line with the philosophy of Germany’s Christian Democrats.
As far as the Prespes name deal is concerned, Mitsotakis has every reason to point out his view that Greek foreign policy is stable and he will respect any agreement signed by a previous administration.
In any case, the relationship between the Greek premier and the German chancellor will be judged by the consistency between words and actions, and the new government’s performance on a wide range of policies that are not limited to the economy but extend to the management of geopolitical developments in our region.