Germany’s Fuchtel sees reform headway in Greece after two years as Merkel envoy

Greece’s efforts to modernize the economy with support from Germany are beginning to pay off at a local level two years after joint projects were first begun, said Chancellor Angela Merkel’s special envoy to the country.

Hans-Joachim Fuchtel, a lawmaker for Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party who was appointed to his job in 2011, said Greek initiatives are benefiting from a “treasure trove” of German industrial and administrative expertise that’s spawned projects from tourism to exporting textiles and managing waste.

“Greece has come a huge step forward,” Fuchtel, 61, who has visited the country about a dozen times in his post, said in an interview in Berlin yesterday. All the same, “economic recovery needs to be speeded up.”

A favorable report card from Fuchtel lends credence to Merkel’s insistence on an overhaul of the Greek economy in return for aid and may help her make the case for any fresh measures needed to help the country. Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said Aug. 20 that Greece will need a new aid package.

Fuchtel, who accompanied Merkel to Athens in November and joined Schaeuble on his trip to Greece July, said he has little influence over macro-economic policy in Greece, including asset sales that are behind schedule. He was hired to signal German solidarity with Greece’s fiscal and economic woes.

The German-Greek Group led by Fuchtel, who combines the work with a post in Berlin as a deputy labor minister, targets local Greek mayors as project managers and is active in areas including training young Greeks in Germany and developing exports.

Helped by German know-how in cornering foreign sales, Greek farmers may export 20 percent more produce this year, according to Fuchtel. Greek olive farmers are being encouraged to add value by processing the fruit locally rather than selling it to foreign producers and, after a 10-year absence, Greece has with German encouragement returned to the annual “Green Week” agricultural show in Berlin, the world’s largest, said Fuchtel. The group is also helping Greek textile producers that employ 30,000 to export products to Europe.

While working for Merkel directly, the chancellor gives her Greece adviser “a lot of free rein” and does not demand regular report on the micro-level programs he supervises, said Fuchtel, a trained attorney.

Fuchtel said he has to battle Greek bureaucracy and frustration amid a sixth year of recession and a jobless tally that rose to a record 27.6 percent in May. Greek lawmakers, faced with approving unprecedented economic reform and fiscal bills, should work more closely with their German counterparts after next month’s federal election, said Fuchtel, who is himself seeking re-election.

“Lawmakers need to be convinced that what they’re doing is right,” said Fuchtel. “Just as in Germany, lawmakers need the factual background to make decisions.”

Success stories about Greece are few and far between and often go unreported in Germany, according to Fuchtel.

“I go about my work thinking the glass is always half full, never half empty,” he said.