PM hopes for boost from Merkel meeting next week

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras will travel to Berlin on Tuesday, almost 10 months to the day since he was last in the German capital, for one of the most crucial meetings of his premiership as he seeks to find common ground with Chancellor Angela Merkel on Greece’s adjustment program and further debt relief.

Sources in Athens said the two leaders would discuss “the Greek economy’s prospects and the Greek program’s progress.” In Berlin the rendezvous was described as a “routine meeting.”

However, it promises to be anything but routine for Samaras, who has spent the past few days on the phone with a number of key European officials. The prime minister has stepped up his contacts due to concerns within the government about the troika’s imminent return to Athens. The fatigued coalition is not prepared to agree to lenders’ demands for further pension and labor reforms, which could jeopardize the review or at least mean that the process will drag on for much longer than the Samaras administration would want.

Samaras is also expected to brief Merkel on the challenge the coalition is facing in ensuring a successor to President Karolos Papoulias can be elected next year. If New Democracy and PASOK fail to find the 180 MPs they need, Greece will have to hold general elections.

The Greek premier is hoping he can obtain the same public backing from Merkel as he did during his last visit to Berlin, when Greece was also in the middle of another troika review.

Samaras made a brief stop in Parliament on Tuesday night, meeting with New Democracy MPs to discuss the presidential election and other issues. He is reported to have told lawmakers that if Greece goes to national polls and SYRIZA wins, local banks would empty the next day. Ex-Health Minister Adonis Georgiadis, now New Democracy’s parliamentary spokesman, also claimed on Skai TV there would be a bank run.

SYRIZA sources described Samaras’s reported comment as “irresponsible.” Opposition leader Alexis Tsipras is due in Rome on Thursday for an unexpected meeting with Pope Francis. The party said the meeting would focus on peace, migration and the environment.

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