NEWS

Merkel’s visit to Athens will boost PM

When German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives in Athens this week for talks with Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, she will be offering the Greek premier political support. Among the issues that will help forge closer bilateral relations are the sale of aircraft and submarines and of new environmental technologies, as well as a common stance on the future of Europe as it emerges from the German EU presidency. The two leaders will also examine developments related to Kosovo, where the joint EU-US front is at odds with Russia, as well as EU-Turkey relations shortly before the Turkish elections. Merkel insists the EU form a special relationship with Ankara. An issue that interests the German chancellor is the need for a «safe and stable» energy supply for Europe. In that area, Russia plays a leading role, while Greece is gradually becoming involved as it develops into a country through which oil and natural gas are channeled to European markets. The moment Merkel has chosen to make her first visit to Athens as chancellor inevitably assumes political significance as Greek elections approach. «The Greek government supported the German presidency and the chancellor would like to thank Karamanlis, who was particularly helpful in the negotiations for the European Constitution,» a German official told Kathimerini. The German government will not come out openly in favor of the Greek premier’s reelection. Besides, Merkel leads a ruling coalition that includes the Social Democrats who are ideologically related to the opposition party PASOK. However, the official noted, «the two leaders have a very good relationship and they coincide politically. The chancellor knows at what time she is coming to Greece and anyone can draw their own conclusions.» Karamanlis is counting on his relationship with Merkel. He would like to create a similar connection with new French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whom he will visit in late July in Paris, and he already has a long-lasting personal relationship with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Contacts among the three will bolster the Greek premier’s profile before the upcoming elections, as the leaders concerned are very popular in their own countries and enjoy widespread approval abroad. It is a common tactic for leaders to offer clear support to their counterparts in other countries who belong to ideologically related parties. Merkel is coming to Athens on Friday and will stay in the Greek capital for just half a day. «She was very keen to come. She originally intended her visit to last a day and a half. In the end, her schedule was full and she had to cancel other arrangements because she wanted to come to Athens at all costs,» said the official. During her brief stay, apart from her meeting with Karamanlis, Merkel will also visit with President Karolos Papoulias, who has close personal and family ties with Germany, and she will speak to the Greek-German Chamber of Commerce. The Germans see the level of trade as satisfactory, though they note there is always room for improvement. Much significance is attached to defense collaboration, which, however, is the subject of suspicions on both sides due to technical problems with the submarine Papanikolis, built by the Germans. Athens has not concealed its dissatisfaction over the delay in delivery. A similar delay is apparent in the construction of other submarines at the Skaramangas Shipyards, at a time when Greece has already invested a considerable sum. But a German official who is involved with the matter told Kathimerini that a second submarine is almost ready and work on the other two is proceeding rapidly to complete the deal. Naturally, the supply of Eurofighters and German submarines to the Greek armed forces will be high on the agenda of the talks, but, as another German official said: «Our economic cooperation goes far beyond the Eurofighters and the submarines,» adding that Merkel «was obliged to raise the issue, though personally she is far more interested in new environmental protection technologies and was planning to discuss the matter with the Greek prime minister.» Meanwhile, he noted that the chancellor recognizes that the aim of balancing the budget by 2010 imposes certain restrictions on the Greek government’s purchases of weapon systems and other products. According to German sources, Merkel will raise the question of energy supply, on which Berlin is in favor of a «secure and stable» supply and avoidance of any destabilizing action of the type Russia has taken over the last 18 months. While Berlin understands the role that Russia inevitably plays due its vast energy resources, it notes «that there is discussion going on in Germany about how far we can permit Russia to control the supply of energy.» Merkel will also refer to the future of Europe and the hope of adopting the new reform treaty, agreement on which was a priority of the German presidency. If time permits, a further topic for discussion will be closer EU-US cooperation, which the present German government believes will bring significant benefits to both sides of the Atlantic.