NEWS

Merkel to visit Greece for first time since crisis uutbreak

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will travel to Athens, the city at the heart of Europe?s sovereign debt turmoil, for the first time since the crisis broke out in Greece three years ago this month.

Merkel, the lead political player in fighting the contagion that has since spread to Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Italy and Cyprus, will visit the Greek capital on Oct. 9 for talks with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, the German government said. The trip is a return visit after Samaras went to Berlin in August.

?We want to help Greece stabilize within the eurozone,? Steffen Seibert, Merkel?s chief spokesman, told reporters in Berlin on Friday as he announced the trip, saying that is the main message Germany can give to Greece. ?We do this by contributing massively to the rescue programs Greece I and Greece II.?

Merkel?s visit to Greece is a trip to the epicenter of the crisis that emerged in October 2009 when the new government announced that its budget deficit had been understated. Two international bailouts have so far failed to halt Greece?s slide into a fifth year of recession and unemployment of about 25 percent. That has stoked public resentment of Germany and Merkel, who has been depicted in media and on placards wearing jackboots and an SS uniform because of her insistence on austerity in return for aid.

Greece?s ability to stabilize and stay in the euro ?will only be possible if Greece makes great efforts of its own,? Seibert said. ?We see that under the Samaras government there?s a strengthened reform effort and we want to support that.? The full program for the trip has yet to be completed, he said, describing the visit as ?normal.?

Merkel has shifted her tone on Greece since Samaras?s election earlier this year, slapping down domestic and European critics who advocate Greece?s exit from the euro. She said during his August visit to Berlin that Germany will stand behind his government as it struggles to overhaul the economy.

?I want Greece to stay in the eurozone and that?s what I?m working for,? Merkel said on Aug. 24, adding that she is ?deeply convinced? he will make every effort to solve Greece?s problems. The goal of austerity measures is to help Greece reach ?the light at the end of the tunnel.?

Samaras, who managed to form a governing coalition with two rival parties after winning the country?s second set of elections this year, is once more trying to convince Greece?s international creditors that his government has done enough to secure its next bailout payment. He echoed Merkel?s language on the need for a sign of hope for the Greek public to aim toward in an interview published Friday in German newspaper Handelsblatt.

With Greek unemployment rising and living standards down by more than a third in five years, ?Greek democracy stands before what is perhaps its greatest challenge,? he said in the interview. If his government were to fall, ?chaos awaits,? he said. ?The people know this government is Greece?s last chance.?

[Bloomberg]