German Chancellor Angela Merkel has arrived in Greece amid tight security on Thursday, looking to turn the page on the biting austerity measures that sparked major protests during her last official visit to Athens in 2014.
Nearly 2,000 police have been deployed to supervise Merkel’s visit and authorities have banned demonstrations around the home of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, where the two leaders met.
Relations between Greece and Germany have calmed since her previous visits in 2012 and 2014, which were overshadowed by angry anti-austerity rallies.
Merkel’s latest visit is seen as a chance to leave behind a fraught period caused by tough German demands for Greek austerity accompanying bailouts from the European Union during the eurozone sovereign debt crisis.
Greece, which left eight years of bailout programmes behind last year, has also been deeply affected by the European refugee and migrant crisis in recent years.
Some political forces still view Merkel’s visit as rubbing salt into the wounds caused by austerity.
Yanis Varoufakis, a Greek economist and politician who served as finance minister under Tsipras for the first half of 2015, said Merkel was “in Greece to inspect the desert she made and to call it … recovery”, referring to Berlin-supported austerity measures.
Mrs Merkel is in Greece to inspect the desert she made and to call it… recovery. Ironically, her Greek triumph unleashed deflationary forces that hit Germany (eg -ve interest rates) and wrecked her career. Never before has a German Chancellor wasted so much political capital.
— Yanis Varoufakis (@yanisvaroufakis) January 10, 2019
Small protests organised by the left and the far right took place in the Greek capital. Police fired tear gas at demonstrators, who chanted slogans blaming Merkel for the hardship of the Greek people during eight years of austerity, as dictated by the three bailout programmes Greece was forced to take.
Greek daily Kathimerini quoted Merkel as saying Greece had Germany’s full support, saluting the “close ties” between the two EU states and NATO partners.
“I know that the past few years have been very difficult for many people in Greece. Europe showed its solidarity through three rescue programmes and supported Greece in its course of reforms towards fiscal and economic stability,” Kathimerini quoted her as saying, hailing the “great progress” made since.
Thanos Veremis, professor of political history at the University of Athens, told AFP news agency that just months ahead of European Parliament elections “Merkel’s visit will underline European solidarity with Greece, a success for Europe”.
Merkel is also due to hold talks with President Prokopis Pavlopoulos on Friday and then with New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, whose party is an EU Parliament ally of her Christian Democratic Union.
Tsipras and his Macedonian counterpart Zoran Zaev have agreed in principle for Skopje to switch to “the Republic of North Macedonia”.
But legislators in Skopje have still to vote through a move which entails four constitutional amendments and requires two thirds support in parliament.
Merkel visited Skopje before last year’s referendum on the change to show support.