German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras struck a conciliatory tone after their first bilateral meeting in Berlin on Monday but the Greek leader’s host insisted that she is not in a position to ease Greece’s liquidity problems on her own.
The two leaders held a news conference after talks at the Chancellery that lasted more than an hour and before they were due to hold a working dinner. Both politicians sought to ease the tension that has built up between the two countries over the last few weeks, particularly due to comments from their finance ministers.
Merkel and Tsipras insisted that their talks had been productive despite differences on a number of issues.
“I did not come here to ask for financial aid,” Tsipras said. “I came for an exchange of our thoughts and opinions, to see where there is common ground and where there is disagreement.”
Merkel said that she sensed an “appetite for cooperation” during the talks but insisted that she could not intervene to ease Greece’s liquidity concerns. She said it was paramount for Athens to present its list of reforms to its lenders, thereby paving the way for the disbursement of the 7.2 billion euros remaining in bailout loans.
“Reforms have to be discussed with the institutions, not with Germany,” she emphasized.
“We want Greece to be strong economically, we want Greece to grow and above all we want Greece to overcome its high unemployment,” she told reporters. “For that you need structural reforms, a solid budget and a functioning administration.”
Both leaders warned about the promoting of stereotypes about Greeks and Germans in each other’s countries as a result of political differences.
“The Greeks are not layabouts, neither are the Germans to blame for Greece’s ills,” said Tsipras. “We have to work hard to overcome these stereotypes.”
The Greek prime minister emphasized that many of Greece’s problems have roots within the country. He also described as “extremely unfair for the chancellor and for Germany” a front cover of Der Spiegel magazine which had superimposed Merkel on a picture of Nazi officers on the Acropolis during the Nazi occupation of Greece. He also described how he had been enraged by a cartoon in SYRIZA-backed Avgi newspaper portraying German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble as a concentration camp commander.
Tsipras, however, did raise the issue of Second World War reparations, claiming that there is a moral duty to settle the matter. However, he stressed that the reparations and the return of a loan the Bank of Greece was forced to provide to Nazi occupiers were a completely different issue from the current bailout negotiations and that the two should not be linked.
The Greek prime minister also called on German authorities to help the new government in Athens tackle corruption by cooperating in the investigation of the Siemens cash-for-contracts scandal.