PM in energy talks ahead of crucial meeting with Merkel

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras visited Azerbaijan on Friday for talks on energy security and Greece’s involvement in an international gas pipeline but his aides remained in Athens to prepare for Tuesday’s crucial meeting between the Greek premier and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin.

In Baku on Friday, the key topic of discussion between Samaras and Azeri President Ilham Aliyev was the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), which will carry gas from Azerbaijan through several countries, including Greece, to Italy and Western Europe. According to sources, both sides agreed that the TAP project would boost energy security in Europe. Aliyev appeared positively disposed toward a Greek request for the provision of additional gas in the event of a crisis, sources said. On Saturday the two leaders are to attend a ceremony at the Shah Deniz gas field, which is to feed the TAP, before Samaras returns to Athens.

The Greek premier is keen to secure a message of support from Merkel on his visit to Berlin next week as leftist SYRIZA appears to have broadened its lead in opinion polls and is intent on triggering snap elections early next year by blocking the coalition’s candidate to replace President Karolos Papoulias, whose term ends in February.

Berlin has said the meeting is a scheduled one and that the progress of Greece’s reform program will be on the agenda. Sources indicated however that the issue of the country’s debt burden will not be discussed.

Samaras is also keen to get Merkel’s backing for his coalition’s bid to offer Greeks some relief from austerity, such as tax breaks, ahead of the scheduled return of the troika to Athens later this month. Troika inspectors are expected to press Athens to push painful pension and labor market reforms but government officials are worried that a hard line will prompt further losses to leftist SYRIZA.

Leftist party leader Alexis Tsipras reiterated SYRIZA’s opposition to the terms of Greece’s loan agreements in an interview on Friday with the Financial Times and called for “a new European deal.” “We want to stop austerity and try to negotiate at the European level with an alliance of peripheral countries,” he said and stressed the need to “break this framework of Merkelism and the Germanic hegemony.”

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