NEWS

Merkel calls for ‘strong Greece’

Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday gave her backing to Greece in its bid to avoid bankruptcy and any possible exit from the single currency, but Berlin played down suggestions that eurozone countries are preparing to increase the financial firepower of the EFSF rescue fund.

Merkel and Papandreou held a news conference shortly before a working dinner in Berlin, where the two leaders were due to discuss Greece?s efforts to meet its fiscal targets ahead of a fresh visit by officials from the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Merkel said the eurozone would ?follow the advice of the troika.?

?We want a strong Greece in the eurozone? Germany is ready to give all the help that is required,? she said. Papandreou pledged that Greece would meet all its fiscal commitments.

The German parliament?s lower house is due to vote on Wednesday on whether to strengthen the European Financial Stability Facility?s powers. Amid concern that some members of Merkel?s party, the Christian Democrats (CDU), may vote against the change, her government played down suggestions the fund would also be given more money. ?We do not intend to increase it,? Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble told n-tv.

Earlier, Papandreou spoke to members of the German industrialists federation (BDI) and pleaded for Greece to be given more time to carry out reforms.

?If people feel only punishment and scorn, the crisis will not become an opportunity, it will become a lost cause,? he said, adding that the constant criticism of Greece was not only ?frustrating at a political level, where a superhuman effort is being made to meet stringent targets in a deepening recession, but frustrating for the Greeks who are making these painful sacrifices and difficult changes.?

Papandreou warned it would take several years for Greece to make the changes being asked of it and reminded his audience of the difficulties Germany faced following reunification. The premier also called on German businesses to invest in Greece and help the economy grow.

The prime minister?s speech appeared to be well received by the audience but in an interview with a local newspaper, BDI head Hans-Peter Keitel said that Greece still had a long way to go before it could convince German firms to invest.

?No foreign investor will invest money in Greece when Greek investors are quitting the country,? he said.