Merkel gives PM political support, nudge to do more

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras on Friday secured a valuable message of political support from German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin with the latter praising Greece for its economic reform efforts but also nudging authorities to redouble efforts to complete negotiations with the troika.

At a joint press conference in Berlin after their talks, Samaras and Merkel both struck a positive tone, with the Greek premier emphasizing that economic reforms were “on track” and Merkel noting that Athens had made “substantial progress.”

“There is light at the end of the tunnel,” Merkel told reporters, adding that Greek authorities had earned “a bit” of trust from the country’s creditors.

Sources told Kathimerini that government officials were very pleased with the outcome of Samaras’s visit to Berlin following two weeks of difficult talks with the troika.

Despite the slow progress of negotiations between Greece and the troika – on the size of a projected fiscal gap for next year and the so-called prior actions that Athens must complete to clinch further rescue funding – Merkel suggested that the rift could be bridged. Commenting on the fiscal gap, Merkel observed, “It’s not huge.”

She repeated several times, however, that Greece must “meet its commitments,” referring to economic reforms Athens has pledged to carry out in return for continued rescue funding.

As for the issue of possible debt relief for Greece, which Athens is seeking on the basis of fiscal data suggesting that the country will post a primary surplus, Merkel said a decision could be made once the surplus has been confirmed by Eurostat, the European Commission’s statistics service.

For his part, Samaras stressed that he had not gone to Berlin to seek mediation for unresolved troika negotiations. “The negotiation is happening in Athens,” he said. Samaras emphasized that Greece was committed to pushing through structural reforms, saying, “We are ready to deliver and we won’t be stopping.” But once again he ruled out any further austerity measures such as cuts to salaries and pensions.

The Greek premier also told reporters that Athens would not be seeking a third loan from international creditors. “There will not be a need for a new memorandum or new money,” he said.

Samaras, who is to meet with German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble Saturday, is expected to concentrate on Greece’s pending “prior actions” when he returns to Athens, sources said Friday. The key sticking point is the fate of the state defense firm EAS, which the troika reportedly wants to streamline radically. The final list of the 4,000 civil servants Greece must lay off before the end of the year also remains incomplete.

Those issues are expected to be addressed again when troika envoys return to Athens, probably on December 2. Merkel noted Friday that it would be preferable for Athens to wrap up negotiations with the troika and secure the next tranche of funding, a sum of 1 billion euros, before Greece assumes the rotating presidency of the European Union on January 1.

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