Samaras to meet Merkel in Berlin for pivotal talks

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Tuesday for talks, which are expected to focus on Greece’s prospects for an exit from the memorandum and for debt relief, and whose outcome is likely to have a decisive impact on Greek financial and political developments.

Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert sought to lower expectations on Monday, noting that talks on Greece and its economic program “are not bilateral negotiations between Germany and Greece but between Greece and its European partners.” He said “no decisions” were expected from the meeting. Nevertheless he noted that Greece’s prospects have brightened. “After a very, very difficult period, there are signs of hope, particularly in the area of economic growth,” he said.

A similarly mixed message was issued by European Central Bank President Mario Draghi. He said Greece has made “significant progress.” But he appeared to downplay suggestions by Greek government officials that some of its bailout funding can be raised on the international markets, noting that Greece’s return to the markets earlier this year was made possible due to the country’s reform efforts and that the markets will not necessarily continue to favor Greece. Draghi’s stance reflects that of many European officials who want Greece to remain tied to its loan agreement so that auditors can keep it in check.

Still Samaras is expected to use Tuesday’s meeting as an opportunity to set out a road map for exiting the memorandum and to secure a message of political support from Merkel that will allow him to offer some form of relief from austerity to Greeks. The premier is expected to discuss with Merkel the dilemma faced by his government, which faces the prospect of early elections as leftist SYRIZA has said it will block its candidate for president in February.

Many in SYRIZA believe Samaras will call snap polls himself if he can present Greeks with a convincing plan for exiting the memorandum and avoiding further foreign borrowing.

SYRIZA sought to play down Tuesday’s meeting, describing Samaras as a “supplicant.”

In a related development, Deputy Prime Minister Evangelos Venizelos on Monday noted that Greece has already secured better interest rates from the international markets than from the International Monetary Fund.

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